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(2nd LD) Culture minister, ex-presidential chief of staff grilled over artist blacklist

All News 18:19 January 17, 2017

(ATTN: ADDS new info in para 10-11)

SEOUL, Jan. 17 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's culture minister and a former presidential chief of staff were questioned by a team of special investigators on Tuesday over allegations the Park Geun-hye administration blacklisted cultural figures deemed critical of the government.

Minister Cho Yoon-sun and former presidential chief of staff Kim Ki-choon appeared at the office of the special prosecutor looking into an influence-peddling scandal that led to the president's impeachment last month.

"I will fully cooperate with the special prosecutor's investigation," Cho told reporters while entering the building. "I hope the truth to be revealed through the investigation." She declined to comment further.

Cho served as the senior presidential secretary for political affairs from 2014 to 2015 and became the culture minister last year.

Kim Ki-choon (C), former presidential chief of staff, arrives at the special investigation team's office in southern Seoul on Jan. 17, 2017, to undergo questioning. Kim is suspected of creating and managing a blacklist of cultural figures deemed critical of the Park Geun-hye administration. (Yonhap)

Kim, who served as the presidential chief of staff from 2013 to 2015, declined to comment on the allegations as he arrived at the building.

The investigation team suspects that the two were the masterminds behind the alleged creation and management of the blacklist intended to block artists critical of the government from receiving state support.

The list is known to have nearly 10,000 people on it, including author Han Kang, winner of the Man Booker International Prize in 2016, and director Park Chan-wook, who won the grand prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2004.

Lee Kyu-chul, the probe team's spokesman, said they are investigating whether President Park was involved in the creation of the list.

"We plan to carry out a face-to-face interrogation with Park by February, at the latest," Lee said at a regular press briefing, adding they have not yet contacted Park's side to set the date.

Park's aide reiterated that she would accept the direct inquiry upon request from the probe team.

"When the independent counsel team requests she appear for questioning, we will coordinate the schedule," the aide told Yonhap News Agency over the phone, declining to be named.

Also on Tuesday, Kim Young-jae, head of a plastic surgery clinic, was grilled by the investigators over suspicions he treated Park with injections, based on his personal ties with Park's longtime friend Choi Soon-sil, without going through due security checks.

Culture Minister Cho Yoon-sun arrives at the special prosecutor's office in southern Seoul on Jan. 17, 2017, to undergo questioning. Cho was summoned as a suspect over allegations she created and managed a blacklist of artists deemed critical of the government. (Yonhap)


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