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(4th LD) Two key aides to Park to face probe over blacklist of cultural figures

All News 22:49 January 21, 2017

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; RESTRUCTURES with latest info throughout)

SEOUL, Jan. 21 (Yonhap) -- Special investigators will question two arrested key aides to President Park Geun-hye over their suspected roles in the blacklisting of cultural figures critical of the conservative government, officials said Saturday.

The investigation team said it plans to call in former Culture Minister Cho Yoon-sun and Kim Ki-choon, an ex-presidential chief of staff, on Sunday as it is now looking into whether Park allegedly ordered them to make the blacklist.

An independent counsel team is investigating an influence-peddling scandal involving Park and her long-time friend that led the president to be impeached in December.

Cho and Kim were formally arrested early Saturday over allegations that they masterminded the creation and management of the blacklist to deny dissident artists state support.

Cho is the first incumbent minister in the country's history to be formally arrested.

Cho delivered her intent to resign after the arrest through her family. Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn accepted it, 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.

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 Kim, accused of masterminding the blacklisting.

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

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."

A local newspaper reported that Park is suspected of having ordered the creation of the blacklist one month after the deadly ferry sinking in April 2014, which killed more than 300 people.

The ferry Sewol disaster is one of the hot issues that resurfaced following the eruption of the scandal. There are growing calls for Park to clarify why she made her first appearance seven hours after the first report on the tragedy was made.

Park's lawyers strongly denied allegations of Park's involvement in the making of the list.

"Park has never ordered anyone to create a blacklist," her legal team said in a statement. "Some specific groups' attempt to manipulate public opinions should be stopped. Media outlets should also release reports based on the truth."

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)

scaaet@yna.co.kr
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