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Key suspects in blacklist allegation face criminal charges

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By Jung Min-ho

Former and incumbent government officials who allegedly created a blacklist of artists critical of the Park Geun-hye administration are likely to face criminal charges as investigators have found evidence of their involvement.

Former Culture, Sports and Tourism Minister Kim Jong-deok and Kim Sang-yule, a former senior presidential secretary for education and culture, may be arrested, while a dozen others who have been questioned will be indicted with or without detention.

The next target will be current Culture Minister Cho Yoon-sun, and former presidential chief of staff Kim Ki-choon, who the independent counsel team is planning to question as early as this week.

The investigation team led by Park Young-soo, the special prosecutor named to look into the Choi Soon-sil scandal, said that it confirmed the list — which contains the names of nearly 10,000 artists and institutions — exists and that Cho and Kim Ki-choon played a part in making and managing it.

The two are expected to be questioned over not only making the list to "selectively support government-friendly artists" with state subsidies but also abusing their power over personnel affairs to remove officials who were against the idea.

Despite their obvious involvement, investigators have been treading carefully in questioning them, knowing that the two are highly capable of picking holes in their investigation.

Last month, they searched their houses and offices but found that some potential evidence, including CCTV footage and mobile phone records, had already been removed.

Before questioning them, investigators are trying to collect as much information as possible from other suspects.

As part of the effort, investigators again questioned Kim Jong-deok who was minister from August 2014 to September 2016 before Cho. He was grilled mainly over who made the order to make the list and how exactly it ended up at the ministry.

Kim Sang-yule, who served at Cheong Wa Dae from December 2014 to last June, was also questioned for the second time.

Many suspect that Kim Ki-choon played a key role in drawing up the list in 2014 and handed it over to the ministry. It is less clear how Cho, who was a senior presidential secretary at that time, was involved in the whole process.

The list became known to the public through a confession from former Culture Minister Yoo Jin-ryong, who was Kim Jong-deok's predecessor.

Investigators have already questioned several current and former presidential secretaries, ministers and senior public officials to find out who was behind the list, which many artists said was reminiscent of Korea under military dictatorships.

Meanwhile, the investigation team has secured additional testimony suggesting personal ties between President Park's longtime friend Choi and plastic surgeon Kim Young-jae.

According to sources from the team, Jang Si-ho, Choi's niece, told investigators that she saw documents from John Jacobs, a cosmetics company owned by Kim Young-jae's brother-in-law, inside Choi's safe.

The firm has been suspected of receiving special favors under the Park administration thanks to the surgeon's friendship with Choi. For example, the small company was allowed to open its stores at Shilla Hotel and Shinsegae duty free shops, despite its low name recognition. Also, Cheong Wa Dae selected its products as its Lunar New Year gifts in 2016.

Kim Young-jae is one of the "secret doctors" who allegedly treated President Park at Cheong Wa Dae. He admitted during National Assembly hearings last month that he treated Park at the presidential office many times, but insisted he was not there on April 16, 2014, the day of the Sewol ferry sinking.

It is alleged Park was absent from duty during the first seven hours when the ferry began sinking, and suspicions are that she was receiving cosmetic treatment at the time.

Jung Min-ho

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