Did scandal-mired Choi Soon-sil play a role in sinking Hanjin Shipping?
Rumors are rife that the shadowy confidant of President Park Geun-hye was an "invisible hand" blocking creditors' financial aid to the troubled shipping company.
Pressed by snowballing debts, the nation's No.1 shipper filed for court receivership in August, triggering chaos in the global maritime cargo transportation network. The company has since been forced to sell its core assets, including vessels that operate on its lucrative Asia-U.S. route, in a desperate effort to stay afloat.
There are allegations that decision-makers in the government and Hanjin's key creditor, the state-backed Korea Development Bank, were positive about extending a lifeline to Hanjin with a cash injection or other measures until March. But an "invisible hand" cut in and abruptly stopped the process, according to the Joongang Ilbo daily.
The newspaper said Choi, 60, broke the deal because of Hanjin's "lukewarm support" of two nonprofit foundations she controls. The organizations -- Mir and K-Sports -- were allegedly set up with tens of billions of won "donated" by Korea's big companies and Choi siphoned funds from the organizations, like personal ATMs.
According to news reports, Hanjin wired a billion won ($877,500) to the organizations, which was less than the amount from other companies with smaller sales than Hanjin.
According to Rep. Park Young-sun of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea, LS Group handed over 1.5 billion won to the foundations, CJ Group 1.3 billion won and Doosan Group 1.1 billion won, although their sales were less than Hanjin's.
And this case led to Hanjin Group Chairman Cho Yang-ho's sudden resignation as president of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics Organizing Committee in May.
Government officials strongly deny the allegations, calling them "groundless."