SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – A South Korean woman extradited from Denmark arrived in Seoul on Wednesday to face questions about the massive corruption scandal centered on her mother and the country’s ousted president.
Chung Yoo-ra, a 20-year-old single mother and equestrian athlete, told reporters at Incheon International Airport that she knew nothing about the alleged crimes committed by her mother and former President Park Geun-hye, who was removed from office and arrested in March over charges including bribery and abuse of power. Authorities then escorted Chung to a prosecution office in Seoul for questioning.
“I don’t know anything that happened between my mother and the former president,” said Chung, who spent the past several months in detention in Denmark. “Speaking for myself, I feel wrongfully accused.”
Chung’s return may allow prosecutors to expand their inquiry into Park. The former president is currently standing trial on the broad corruption charges, highlighting a stunning fall for South Korea’s first female president.
Prosecutors say that Chung, despite questionable qualifications, was given admission to a prestigious Seoul university and received academic favors from the school because of her mother’s presidential ties. Crucially, prosecutors may also question Chung over allegations of bribery between Park and corporate giant Samsung.
According to prosecutors, Park colluded with Chung’s mother, Choi Soon-sil, to take about $26 million in bribes from Samsung and was promised tens of millions of dollars more from Samsung and other large companies. The money prosecutors see as bribes include $7 million that Samsung provided to a sports consulting firm controlled by Choi that financed Chung’s equestrian training in Germany.
In her conversation with reporters at the airport, Chung said she never thought she was getting preferential treatment from Samsung. “My mother told me that Samsung was planning to support six equestrian athletes, and I thought I was just one of them,” she said.
About allegations that she got a free pass into Ewha Womans University, Chung said: “Of course I accept them canceling my enrollment – I didn’t even go to school. I never wanted to go to college and I didn’t even know what my major was.”
Prosecutors believe billionaire Samsung scion Lee Jae-yong, who also has been arrested, sponsored Choi’s family in exchange for Park’s support of a 2015 merger between two Samsung affiliates that allowed Lee to promote a father-to-son succession of wealth and management power at the group.
Park and Choi have denied the bribery accusations in court. Lee has also denied using the payments to win support for the 2015 deal, saying Samsung was just responding to Park’s requests to support culture and sports.
Chung, who was part of the South Korean squad that won the team equestrian gold medal at the 2014 Asian Games, had been living in Germany with her infant son and mother, and training as an equestrian, when the corruption allegations involving Park and Choi emerged last October.
Choi flew back to Seoul to face an investigation, but Chung sought refuge in Denmark. Officials arrested Chung in the northern city of Aalborg in January on an international warrant. Chung tried to fight the extradition, but a Danish court earlier this month ruled in favor of South Korean prosecutors.