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Daughter of Korea’s ‘Rasputin’ arrives home in handcuffs

After several months in detention in Denmark, Chung Yoo-ra returned to her home country to be questioned about bribery allegations involving corporate giant Samsung and her mother, confidante of ousted president Park Geun-hye.
South Korean investigators escort Chung Yoo-ra, the daughter of Choi Soon-sil, on her arrival at Incheon International Airport, South Korea, on Wednesday, May 31, 2017 after being extradited from Denmark.  She faces questions about the massive corruption scandal centred on her mother and the country's ousted president Park Geun-hye. Chung Sung-Jun/Pool Photo via AP
South Korean investigators escort Chung Yoo-ra, the daughter of Choi Soon-sil, on her arrival at Incheon International Airport, South Korea, on Wednesday, May 31, 2017 after being extradited from Denmark. She faces questions about the massive corruption scandal centred on her mother and the country's ousted president Park Geun-hye. Chung Sung-Jun/Pool Photo via AP

SEOUL // She is the privileged daughter of the woman at the centre of a political scandal that brought down a president, which means Chung Yoo-ra is probably the most hated 20-year-old in South Korea.

After several months in detention in Denmark, Chung returned to her home country in a hoodie and handcuffs on Wednesday to be questioned about bribery allegations involving corporate giant Samsung as well as the prestigious Korean university where she studied. Prosecutors also hope her extradition will provide them with evidence to expand their case against former president Park Geun-hye, who was removed from office in March and is now being tried on charges of bribery, extortion and abuse of power.

“Speaking for myself, I feel wrongfully accused,” Chung told a throng of journalists at Incheon International Airport amid a barrage of camera flashes.

She was then escorted to a prosecution office in Seoul for questioning about the corruption scandal that centres on Park and Chung’s mother, Choi Soon-sil, a longtime confidante of the former president.

Chung is the only child of Choi, — dubbed “the female Rasputin” for her strong influence over the former president — -who has been charged with taking tens of millions of dollars from companies in bribes and through extortion and also manipulating state affairs from the shadows during Park’s presidency. Chung’s parents are divorced and her father, Chung Yoon-hoe, was Park’s top aide for more than a decade before she became president in 2013.

Chung was part of the South Korean squad that won the team equestrian gold medal at the 2014 Asian Games and had been training in Germany, living there with her infant son and her mother when the corruption allegations emerged last October.

Choi returned to Seoul to face the investigation, while Chung sought refuge in Denmark. She was arrested by Danish police in January for overstaying her visa and fought ectadition before dropping her appeal last week. On arriving in Seoul, Chung said she did not know any key details about the corruption scandal or her mother’s dealings with Park. Her young son remains in Denmark, but Chung said she intends to bring him to South Korea.

“My baby spent too much time without a family member there, so I thought it would be better for me to quickly relay (to investigators) my position and solve the problem by eliminating misunderstandings,” she said.

Chung was being investigated not far from the court in Seoul where her mother stood trial and pleaded for forgiveness for her daughter, who she said was “not really a bad kid.”

“I feel more pain in my heart today because my daughter took the difficult road back home,” Choi said.

Prosecutors have alleged that Ewha Womans University admitted Chung despite questionable qualifications and granted her academic favours because of her mother’s presidential ties. Crucially, they may also question Chung over allegations of bribery between Park and corporate giant Samsung.

According to prosecutors, Park colluded with Choi to take about $26 million in bribes from Samsung and was promised tens of millions of dollars more from Samsung and other large companies. Prosecutors say the bribery included $7 million which Samsung provided to a sports consulting firm controlled by Choi that financed Chung’s equestrian training in Germany.

Prosecutors believe Samsung scion Lee Jae-yong, who has also been arrested, sponsored Choi’s family in exchange for Park’s support of a 2015 merger between two Samsung affiliates that allowed Lee to promote a father-to-son transfer of corporate wealth and leadership at the group.

Park and Choi have denied the bribery accusations in court. Lee has also denied using the payments to win support for the merger, saying Samsung was just responding to Park’s requests to support culture and sports.

Chung maintains she never thought she was getting preferential treatment from Samsung. “My mother told me that Samsung was planning to support six equestrian athletes, and I thought I was just one of them,” she said.

The people’s anger over the allegations about Chung’s sponsorship and her academic performance was a big factor in the ousting of Park. They were angry that Chung had got her place at an elite establishment because of her wealth connections, bypassing the country’s hyper-competitive school environment, and demonstrated for days, demanding to know why Chung was given good grades for classes she did not even attend. Many students were also among the millions who protested against Park for weeks. Young people were also enraged when Chung reportedly wrote on Facebook in 2014: “Blame your own parents for not having what it takes. Don’t ask for rich parents to do this and that for you. Money is also a form of competitiveness.”

The Education Ministry ordered Ewha to cancel Chung’s enrolment after concluding that the school had manipulated its admissions process. Former school president Choi Kyung-hee is now on trial over her alleged role in arranging special treatment for Chung.

She hardly helped matters by saying she only entered to Ewha at her mother’s insistence.

“Of course I accept them cancelling my enrolment — I didn’t even go to school,” she said. “I never wanted to go to college and I didn’t even know what my major was. I never wanted to go to university so I have nothing to say about it but I’m sorry.”

* Associated Press

Updated: May 31, 2017 04:00 AM

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