Choi Soon-sil suspected of hiding $962 million in Germany: Report

Choi Soon-sil attends her first court hearing in Seoul, South Korea, December 19, 2016.
PHOTO: Reuters

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.

The ‘female Rasputin’ at centre of S Korean President Park Geun-Hye political scandal

  • South Korean President Park Geun-Hye is facing calls to resign over allegations she allowed a close personal friend to meddle in state affairs.
  • People watch a television news report showing South Korean President Park Geun-Hye making a public apology, at a railway station in Seoul on October 25, 2016.
  • South Korean President Park Geun-hye bows after releasing a statement of apology to the public during a news conference at the Presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, October 25, 2016.
  • South Korea’s presidential office said on Saturday it was cooperating with prosecutors’investigation into key aides to President Park Geun-hye over allegations an old friend of hers enjoyed inappropriate influence over her.
  • Prosecutors’ request for presidential Blue House documents came ahead of an evening protest expected to draw thousands in central Seoul calling for Park’s resignation amid a scandal that has cast her presidency into crisis.
  • A woman attends a protest denouncing President Park Geun-hye over a recent influence-peddling scandal in central Seoul
  • Protestors hang a caricature showing South Korean President Park Geun-Hye (L) and her confidante Choi Soon-Sil (C), on a board during a rally denouncing a scandal over President Park's aide in Seoul on October 27, 2016.
  • South Korean prosecutors on October 27 set up a high-powered "task-force" to probe a widening scandal involving alleged influence-peddling by a close confidante of President Park Geun-Hye. Choi Soon-Sil, an enigmatic woman with no government position, was already part of an investigation into allegations that she used her relationship with the president to strong-arm conglomerates into multi-million dollar donations to two non-profit foundations.
  • Park’s office said late on Friday she had ordered her senior secretaries to tender their resignations, and she will reshuffle the office in the near future. Her chief of staff separately offered to resign earlier, the office said.
  • The deepening crisis over allegations that Park’s friend, Choi Soon-sil, enjoyed inappropriate influence over her has sent her public support to an all-time low, with more than 40 percent in an opinion poll saying Park should resign or be impeached.

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.

Choi accused of interfering in state affairs using relationship with President

  • The woman at the centre of a corruption scandal that triggered the biggest political crisis for a generation in South Korea appeared in court Monday for a preliminary hearing in her trial on fraud charges.
  • It was the first public appearance since October for Choi Soon-Sil, who has been dubbed Korea’s “female Rasputin” for the influence she wielded over the now-impeached president, Park Geun-Hye.
  • Sporting black-rimmed glasses and a surgical mask that obscured her face, Choi, who has been in custody for the past seven weeks, was brought to the Seoul Central District Court in a special prison bus.
  • Television footage showed her handcuffed and wearing a blue-grey prison outfit with a serial number on the chest as she was taken off the bus and led into the court building by a female guard.
  • The 60-year-old faces trial on charges of embezzlement and abuse of power – largely related to huge “donations” made by conglomerates to two dubious foundations she controlled and allegedly plundered.
  • A long-time friend of Park’s, Choi is accused of using her leverage with the president to strong-arm the companies into handing over tens of millions of dollars.
  • Accusations that Park colluded with Choi formed the basis of an impeachment motion against the president that was passed by parliament earlier this month.
  • The motion is now being considered by the Constitutional Court which has up to 180 days to make a ruling on whether to endorse or reject the president’s ouster.
  • The last time Choi was seen in public was in late October when she attended a summons at the Seoul prosecutor’s office and famously lost a much-photographed Prada shoe in the media scrum outside the building.
  • Choi was not obliged to turn up for Monday’s hearing, which was largely procedural and focused on preparing the way for the trial proper.
  • “She has expressed a willingness to participate sincerely in the trial,” Lee was quoted as saying by the Yonhap news agency.
  • But her lawyer, Lee Kyung-Jae, said she had volunteered to appear.
  • Choi was criticised for refusing to attend the hearings of a parliamentary committee investigating the scandal.
  • Park is also accused of ordering aides to leak confidential state documents to Choi, who has no official title or security clearance, and allowing her to meddle in some state affairs, including the appointment of top officials.
  • Choi Soon-sil, accused of interfering in state affairs using her relationship with President Park Geun-hye, arrived at the Supreme Prosecutors' Office building in Seoul on Monday to face questioning over her alleged influence peddling.
  • Choi, a longtime confidante and shaman-like adviser to Park, had returned to Seoul on Sunday from Europe, capping a week of turmoil that led to a massive anti-government rally over the weekend.
  • Choi, a private citizen with no position in making policy, will be investigated over allegations of taking advantage of her political ties with President Park and coercing conglomerates to donate money to two foundations she controls.
  • She is also accused of seeking academic favors from professors at Ewha Womans University for her daughter Chung Yoo-ra.

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.