How ties to an 'equestrian princess' landed Samsung at center of a scandal

Fri Dec 30, 2016 5:16am EST
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By Ju-min Park and Miyoung Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) - Samsung Electronics Co's (005930.KS: Quote) sponsorship of the equestrian-athlete daughter of a long-time friend of President Park Geun-hye has helped to land South Korea's top company in the center of the country's influence-peddling scandal.

Samsung agreed last year to pay $18 million to Core Sports International GmbH, a consulting firm controlled by Park's friend Choi Soon-sil, who is in jail and faces charges of abuse of power and fraud in a criminal trial that began this month.

A South Korean court has also issued an arrest warrant for Choi's Germany-based horse-riding daughter, 20-year-old Chung Yoo-ra – who has been the main beneficiary of the sponsorship – for alleged criminal interference related to her academic record, and other unspecified charges.

The sponsorship deal is being examined by prosecutors as they try to ascertain whether Samsung, which was also funding and chairing the Korea Equestrian Federation (KEF), sought favors from Choi and President Park in return for funding initiatives backed by them. In particular, they are looking at whether favors included the National Pension Service' support for Samsung’s founding family in a shareholder vote last year.

"A crucial part of our investigation is to look into why Samsung and the KEF supported Choi Soon-sil and her daughter Chung Yoo-ra and transferred funds to companies set up by Choi or involved with Choi," an official at the special prosecutor's team told Reuters by phone. He declined to be identified because he is not authorized to speak with the media.

Park has been impeached by parliament over her role in a wide-ranging influence-peddling scandal linked to Choi, and now awaits a Constitutional Court review of that decision, which if upheld would make her the first democratically-elected South Korean leader to leave office in disgrace.


An outside view of the equestrian sports farm "Reitsportanlage Jaegerhof" in Biblis, Germany, December 19, 2016. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski