November 03, 2016 10:55
Choi Soon-sil, the presidential confidante at the center of a massive influence peddling scandal, appears to have launched a series of paper companies in Germany since the 1990s that eventually allowed her to launder vast slush funds and dodge taxes.
Choi's increasingly brazen dealings allegedly culminated in a 2.8 million euro payment from Samsung for a sports consultancy that appears to have served no purpose except to launder the bribe.
She started small. According to German corporate information websites Compaly and Moneyhaus, Choi and her former husband Chung Yoon-hoi invested 50,000 Deutsche marks in 1992 to establish a trading company in Germany.
Chung was later to become a presidential secretary under Park, but at the time he was a humble airline security crewmember stationed in Germany, where the pair grew closer.
They married in 1995 and divorced in 2014.
The trading company operated a restaurant in Germany and closed down in February of 1998. It was just a 20-minute drive from Schmitten, the town outside Frankfurt where Choi was later to run Widec Sports, the consultancy so lavishly funded by Samsung.
Choi and Chung also ran a Japanese restaurant called Osaka in Frankfurt and apparently made friends in the Korean expat community.
In 2003, Choi opened another company in Germany that imported and exported leather goods but shut it down in February 2005.
The dates coincide suspiciously with milestones in President Park Geun-hye's career. When the trading company shut in February 1998, Park was about to run for a seat in the National Assembly, her first step in politics.
According to witnesses, Park lived in the same apartment in Daegu as Choi and Chung, and Choi started her role as Park's stylist, taking care of her clothes and hair.
Witnesses in Germany said Choi accompanied Park on a visit to the country in September 2006, after the import-export firm shut and Park resigned her leadership of the then Grand National Party to prepare for the party's presidential nomination.
In 2015, Choi bought Core Sports, which she renamed Widec the following year, when she also established a company called The Blue K, both in Germany.
Suspicions are that they were mere vehicles to siphon off some of the W77.4 billion in donations she collected from major conglomerates for her dubious Mir and K-Sports foundations in Korea.
Byun Hye-jung, who teaches taxation at the University of Seoul said, "There are suspicions that she established a series of paper companies in Germany and shut them down to make it difficult to track her financial activities."
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