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Culture minister admits to existence of blacklist

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Key suspects refuse to attend final hearing

By Kim Hyo-jin

<p style='text-align: left;'>Cho Yoon-sun, Culture Minister</span><br /><br />

Cho Yoon-sun, Culture Minister

Culture Minister Cho Yoon-sun admitted during a parliamentary hearing Monday that a blacklist of artists critical of the Park Geun-hye government did exist.

This is the first time that the minister has admitted to the existence of the list.

However, she kept denying allegations that she played a role in drawing it up, saying she will reveal everything to the independent counsel team.

"Please understand that I can't elaborate because of the ongoing investigation into the case," she said. "As the culture minister, I feel sincerely sorry that the blacklist case has caused a lot of social confusion."

The National Assembly committee investigating the corruption scandal involving the President and her confidant Choi Soon-sil held a seventh hearing to question witnesses suspected of giving false testimony during previous hearings and those who have so far refused to appear.

Cho, one of the few witnesses who showed up, admitted to the existence of the blacklist after intense grilling by lawmakers.

"I learned that the list excluding some artists from government subsidies exists," she said.

However, Cho refused to elaborate on allegations that she helped create it.

"It's difficult for me to speak about it as the special prosecutor is looking into the allegation," she said. "I will closely cooperate with the counsel. I believe the truth will be unveiled soon."

The independent counsel team led by Park Young-soo, the special prosecutor named to look into the corruption scandal, said Sunday it had confirmed that the list containing the names of about 10,000 artists and institutions exists and that Cho and Kim Ki-choon, a former presidential chief of staff, played a part in creating it.

Cho earlier denied the allegation during one of the special committee's sessions, arguing she was not aware of the list. The committee asked the special prosecutor last week to indict her on charges of perjury.

"I still don't know how it was created or how much influence it has had," Cho said. "I believe only the special prosecutor knows the details."

Though denying the allegation, Cho apologized to the artists named on the list.

"As the minister managing cultural policies, I'm deeply sorry that I gave pain to artists and failed to deeper into the case through a thorough investigation," she said.

Later in the day, the special prosecutor requested arrest warrants for four key suspects in the blacklist allegation on charges of abuse of power.

They are former Culture Minister Kim Jong-deok; Kim Sang-yule, former senior presidential secretary for education and culture; Shin Dong-cheol, former presidential secretary for political affairs; and former Vice Culture Minister Chung Kwan-joo.

They were allegedly involved in drawing up the list that excluded artists from state subsidies. Kim Jong-deok and Chung face additional charges of perjury as they had said in a previous hearing that they did not know about the list.

The counsel team is expected to question Cho and Kim Ki-choon soon.

In the hearing, key witnesses, including former presidential secretary for civil affairs Woo Byung-woo and former Ewha Womans University President Choi Kyung-hee, did not appear.

The parliamentary committee issued subpoenas to 20 witnesses to attend, but only four, including Cho, appeared. In response, it requested the prosecution to file charges of contempt of the Assembly against those who refused to attend.

In the face of the absence of multiple witnesses, the committee unanimously approved to forward a motion to extend its operation, scheduled to end Jan. 15, for another 30 days.

Rep. Kim Sung-tae, head of the committee, urged leaders of rival parties to discuss the matter and Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun to hold a plenary session to approve the request.

"I hope floor leaders of the four parties get together and agree on the extension within this week," Kim said.

"It's like we are asked to push for another hearing," Rep. Hwang Young-cheul, a panel member, said during the hearing, disgruntled with the absence of the witnesses. "We can't finish the committee's operation as scheduled."

Rival parties set up the 17-member committee, Nov. 17, to look into the corruption scandal where Choi allegedly interfered in state affairs and extorted conglomerates for personal gain through the Mir and K-Sports foundations.

It has grilled owners of conglomerates, presidential aides and staffers at the foundations controlled by Choi during a series of hearings.

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