|Former Culture Minister Kim Jong-deok is surrounded by journalists at the independent counsel's office in southern Seoul, Friday, as he attended a hearing over his alleged involvement in Cheong Wa Dae's alleged drawing up of a blacklist of artists critical of the government. / Yonhap|
By Jung Min-ho
The independent counsel team questioned former Culture Minister Kim Jong-deok, Friday, over his alleged role in managing a blacklist of thousands of artists critical of the Park Geun-hye administration.
It is alleged that Cheong Wa Dae drew up the blacklist containing the names of nearly 10,000 artists as well as seven media outlets in 2014, and handed it over to the ministry. Kim served as minister from August 2014 to this September.
The team led by special prosecutor Park Young-soo has already questioned several current and former presidential secretaries, ministers and senior public officials to find out who was behind the list many artists said was reminiscent of Korea's time under military dictatorships.
Kim, who claimed at an Assembly hearing earlier this month that he had not seen the list, told reporters at the probe team's office in Seoul that it wasn't a lie.
Former presidential chief of staff Kim Ki-choon allegedly played a leading role in drawing up the list to control artists and media outlets through "selective financial support." It was disclosed to the public through a confession from former Culture Minister Yoo Jin-ryong, who was Kim Jong-deok's predecessor.
Kim Jong-deok is also suspected of being involved in pressuring Hanjin Group Chairman Cho Yang-ho to resign in May as chief organizer for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.
Kim Jong-deok was a university professor of Cha Eun-taek, one of the key figures in the major corruption and influence-peddling scandal involving President Park and her confidant Choi Soon-sil.
The counsel team said it may question the blacklisted artists who were allegedly disadvantaged due to their works critical of the government. It is said that among those on the list are novelist Han Kang, who won the Man Booker International Prize this year for an English translation of her novel, and movie director Park Chan-wook, who won the grand prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2004.
On the same day, investigators questioned three key suspects ― former Vice Culture Minister Kim Chong, former presidential secretary An Chong-bum and Choi's niece Jang Si-ho ― over bribery allegations involving the Samsung Group and the government.
Kim Chong and Jang have been indicted on charges of conspiring to pressure Cheil Worldwide, a Samsung advertising affiliate, to cough up 1.6 billion won ($1.3 million) for a children's winter sports center Jang controls.
The group allegedly supported Choi and her cronies financially through other channels too, including through "donations" to the Mir and K-Sports foundations controlled by Choi.
In return for the money, investigators suspect, Cheong Wa Dae ― more precisely President Park ― backed a controversial merger of two Samsung units last year.
The counsel team found a clue suggesting the President's direct involvement in the alleged backdoor deal. In An's note filled with the President's orders, investigators found a message saying "ask Cheil Worldwide President Kim Jae-youl to support the children's center."
Moon Hyung-pyo, chief of the National Pension Service (NPS) and a former health and welfare minister, has been detained over abusing his power to back the merger.
It is alleged that Moon pressured a senior official at the ministry to leave his post because the official was "passive about backing the merger." Moon allegedly said the order was from Cheong Wa Dae and the official quit in July 2015.