South Korean prosecutors are seeking to extradite from Denmark the daughter of Park Geun-hye’s “shaman adviser” for questioning over the corruption scandal that led last month to the president’s impeachment by parliament.
Chung Yoo-ra, the 20-year-old daughter of Choi Soon-sil, was arrested on Sunday in the northern Danish city of Aalborg for staying there illegally. South Korea had asked Interpol to search for her.
Ms Choi is alleged to have used her position as Ms Park’s confidante to influence presidential decisions and press conglomerates into donating millions of dollars to foundations under her control.
Special prosecutors looking into the scandal said on Tuesday that Ms Chung was willing to return to South Korea in three days if she was set free upon entry but that they could not accept her demand.
They added that she may choose to return to South Korea voluntarily, as Seoul’s foreign ministry has been working to invalidate her passport.
Korean reporters in Denmark have quoted Ms Chung as denying any wrongdoing.
Ms Chung, a former member of South Korea’s equestrian team, has become a focus of public anger amid allegations that she was given favourable treatment in being admitted to Seoul’s prestigious Ewha Womans University — a move later cancelled — and that millions of dollars allegedly extorted by her mother were used to fund her equestrian activities.
Samsung, the country’s biggest conglomerate, agreed last year to pay $18m to a sports consulting group controlled by Ms Choi, with Ms Chung the main beneficiary of the sponsorship. The contract was later cancelled but not before Samsung had funnelled about $6.6m to Ms Chung’s equestrian team, which was based in Germany. The group’s spending included a €1m purchase of Vitana V, a horse to be used by Ms Chung.
Lee Jae-yong, Samsung’s vice-chairman, told a parliamentary hearing last month that “President Park asked us to give generously to support the development of sports, culture and tourism”, although he said the company had not sought favours in return.
Mr Lee also denied that payments to the foundations had been intended to shore up support for a controversial merger last year between two affiliates.
Prosecutors have been probing a possible link between Samsung’s donations and the merger of Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries. The head of state-run National Pension Service, a key Samsung shareholder, was arrested last week for approving the merger, which was seen as benefiting Samsung’s founding family over minority shareholders and as being vital in cementing Mr Lee’s position as heir to the broader business.
Ms Choi is facing trial for alleged fraud and abuse of power, while Ms Park is awaiting a final ruling from the constitutional court over her impeachment.
Ms Choi has been accused of extorting about $65m from dozens of companies for the two non-profit foundations. She has denied any wrongdoing.
The president on Tuesday faced criticism after refusing to testify at a court hearing on her impeachment. Speaking to reporters on Sunday, she had denied any wrongdoing and insisted the various accusations against her were fabricated.
The session was postponed until Thursday. The hearings can proceed without her if she refuses for a second time to appear.
“It’s not good etiquette to the justices, and also inappropriate for the president, as the defendant [in] the impeachment trial, to say this and that to the media outside of court,” Kweon Seong-dong, the chief prosecutor in the trial, said on Tuesday.
Lee Joong-hwan, Ms Park’s lawyer, said she did not plan to appear at court on Thursday and would probably not testify during the trial.
The constitutional court must decide within six months whether to uphold parliament’s impeachment of Ms Park. If the court decides to remove Ms Park from office, a presidential election will be held within 60 days.
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