Key figures in the President Park Geun-hye scandal, Choi Soon-sil and her daughter possess some 800 billion won (S$962 million) worth of assets under borrowed names in Germany, a local daily reported Thursday.
According to the Hankook Ilbo, German prosecutors are investigating Choi and her daughter Chung Yoo-ra for having created some 500 paper companies using the names of 10 affiliates, including Chung's horseback riding coach and another associate in Europe, mainly in Germany. The newspaper cited unnamed sources at South Korea's Justice Ministry and the independent counsel team which is currently investigating the scandal.
Park's friend, Choi, is suspected of meddling in state affairs and using her close ties to the president for personal gains. Her 20-year-old daughter was unfairly accepted into a prestigious university in Seoul and received special treatment in her academic records, a separate probe found.
German police in Hessen found out about the shell companies during their investigation into the 280,000 euros (S$423,000) sent four different times since last September by Korean conglomerate Samsung to one of Choi's companies, Core Sports, in Germany.
As it is difficult for nonnatives to create companies in the country, the two are thought to have used local associates' names and later acquired all the shares of the companies after their establishment.
It is suspected that the 10 affiliates include Chung's equestrian coach Christian Kamplade in Germany and David Yoon who has known the family for 17 years.
Choi first created the asset management company Mainsee 959, then changed its name two times, to Core Sports, later settling on Widec Sports. She is suspected of coercing funds from conglomerates, including Samsung which is also under investigation for donating large amounts of money to Choi.
Chung, whose whereabouts are not known, has repeatedly refused to attend the parliamentary hearing over the scandal.
Besides trying to secure a court warrant to detain her, the independent counsel team has requested German authorities to extradite Chung and to freeze her assets, while also asking for the transaction and phone records of the affiliates.
Korea's Foreign Ministry also decided to seize the passport of Chung and possibly invalidate it if she does not turn it in soon. The special investigation team has put her on its wanted list.
Hankook Ilbo reported that Choi has been forming relationships with acquaintances in Germany for over 30 years. She was also found to have spent summer last year in Germany amid an ongoing prosecutorial probe.
Regarding the 800 billion won of assets, the authorities said they are considering confiscating the money.