Former President Park Geun-hye's lawyer Yoo Young-ha arrives at her house in southern Seoul by car, Monday, the eve of the prosecution's questioning of the ousted president. / Korea Times photo by Ryu Hyo-jin
By Kim Rahn
The prosecution is expected to question former President Park Geun-hye over allegations that her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil managed Park's secret funds handed down from her father — the late dictator Park Chung-hee.
The former president will appear at the prosecution's office today. Prosecutors believe that Park and Choi shared financial interests as bribery accomplices.
Choi allegedly set up hundreds of paper companies in Germany under other people's names to hide cash and real estate assets. The hidden assets' value was rumored to be around 800 billion won ($712.5 million), with some lawmakers claiming it could have reached 2 trillion won.
Not only Korean but also German authorities began investigating the allegation, and the Korean independent counsel asked the German prosecution for cooperation, requesting its records including details of Choi's money transactions and financial statements of the paper companies.
What came in to question was: How did Choi get the money in the first place? She barely worked throughout her life, except for holding the head position at a kindergarten for a short time. It is also alleged that her real estate in Korea is valued at 30 billion won and that of her sister, Choi Soon-deuk, is 100 billion won.
The Choi family has been close to Park for decades since Choi's father Choi Tae-min, a shady cult leader, advised Park as a mentor following her mother's death in 1974. Suspicion is that the Choi family's money came from a slush fund accumulated by former President Park Chung-hee and laundered by the Choi family through paper companies.
Suspicions have been around for decades that the late dictator Park raised a slush fund during his term in the 1960s-70s by extorting conglomerates and the money was being kept overseas.
Rep. Noh Woong-rae of the Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) said in February that Park Chung-hee hid the money in Swiss banks, and Park Geun-hye was aware of that.
Citing the "Fraser Report" published in 1978 by a U.S. House of Representatives' committee on Korea-U.S. relations, Noh said that the Park Chung-hee administration took 10 to 15 percent of the loans or investment funds it acquired from other countries as commission, and that it kept the money in bank accounts opened under borrowed names at some Swiss banks including Union Bank of Switzerland.
"According to a U.S.-based journalist, Park Geun-hye visited Switzerland with five security agents after her father's death in October 1979, changed the names of the account holders, and paid $50,000 to each of the five people in recompense, or rather in money,'" the lawmaker said.
He said Choi began setting up paper companies in Germany in 1992 to launder the slush fund in the Swiss banks.
"Wealth illegally accumulated overseas by the abuse of power should be returned to the state coffers. Korea should ask for cooperation from the Swiss and German governments to get information about the secret accounts and the paper companies," he said.
Some lawmakers are pushing for a special law to confiscate Choi's illegally-gained assets. DPK Chairwoman Rep. Choo Mi-ae said in a forum in February, "Confiscating the Choi family's illegally-accumulated assets will help clear away the legacy of Park Chung-hee."