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(3rd LD) S. Korea's culture minister arrested over blacklist of cultural figures

All News 18:44 January 21, 2017

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details in paras 5,6,14)

SEOUL, Jan. 21 (Yonhap) -- South Korean Culture Minister Cho Yoon-sun was formally arrested by investigators Saturday over her suspected involvement in the blacklisting of cultural figures deemed critical of the conservative government.

The Seoul Central District Court issued a warrant to arrest Cho on charges of abuse of authority and perjury. It also issued an arrest warrant for former presidential chief of staff Kim Ki-choon, accused of masterminding the blacklisting.

The court said their criminal facts have been substantiated and the suspects could destroy evidence.

With the decision, Cho became the first incumbent minister in the country's history to be formally arrested.

Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn accepted Cho's offer to resign, expressing regret that an incumbent minister was arrested.

"I feel sorry that the latest development caused concerns to the public. I've instructed a vice cultural minister to lead efforts to smoothly run the ministry," Hwang said.

An independent counsel team, looking into an influence-peddling scandal involving President Park Geun-hye and her friend, on Wednesday requested the warrants for Cho and Kim.

Cho and Kim were questioned for 21 hours and 15 hours, respectively, from Tuesday to early Wednesday over allegations that they masterminded the creation and management of the blacklist to deny dissident artists state support.

They were among the closest aides to the beleaguered president. Cho served as the senior presidential secretary for political affairs from 2014 to 2015 and became the culture minister last year.

Kim, who served as the presidential chief of staff from 2013 to 2015, is said to have exerted significant influence on state affairs beyond his position.

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.

The investigation team's spokesman Lee Kyu-chul said last week, "The creation and execution of the blacklist severely infringed upon the people's freedom of thought and expression."

Lee said the team is now looking into whether President Park was involved in the creation of the list.

The team of special prosecutors said Saturday that it will summon Cho and Kim the following day to investigate whether Park allegedly ordered them to make the blacklist.

Culture Minister Cho Yoon-sun leaves the Seoul Central District Court on Jan. 20, 2017, after attending a hearing to review the legality of her detention. The special prosecutor's team requested an arrest warrant for Cho over allegations she was involved in creating a blacklist of anti-government cultural figures while serving as a senior aide to President Park Geun-hye. After the three-hour review session, Cho waited for the court's decision at a detention center in Uiwang, south of Seoul. (Yonhap)


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