What links Samsung, an $830,000 (£683,000) horse, and the South Korean national pension fund?
They’re just some of the ingredients in a huge, surreal presidential scandal rocking South Korea.
Choi Soon-sil, an aide of president Park Geun-hye, has been accused of shaking down businesses to enrich themselves via a slush fund, with the assistance of president Park — whose future is now in doubt.
The evolving scandal has shaken the country, and Samsung, South Korea’s largest company, is being dragged in.
Back up: What on earth is going on?
In short: Choi Soon-sil, a close friend of president Park Geun-hye, is accused of taking cash in exchange for influence from companies.
Choi allegedly had access to classified material and drafts of speeches, which were discovered on a tablet computer in one of her offices.
She now faces charges of abuse of power and fraud, according to Reuters.
President Park’s future now looks dubious. She has been impeached by parliament and stripped of her powers, but continues to deny wrongdoing.
And Samsung comes into this, how?
Investigators are trying to ascertain whether Samsung paid bribes to Park-linked organisations in an effort to get support from the national pension fund to get a merger approved between two Samsung entities that would give the company’s heir-apparent Jay Y. Lee more control. (The pension fund owned shares in both entities.)
Samsung’s offices have been raided twice, and prosecutors are currently weighing up whether they plan to arrest two Samsung executives, according to Reuters, or whether they will be considered witnesses in the investigation.
Some observers believe Lee will likely be called in by prosecutors next. “Summoning two top guys at Samsung Group may mean the special prosecutors are carrying out the final checks before calling in Jay Y. Lee,” Hansung University professor Kim Sang-Jo told Bloomberg. “Samsung stands at the center of Choi-gate.”
Samsung did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.
But what about the horse?
Ah yes, the horse. Reuters reports that in 2015, Samsung paid $18 million (£14.8 million) to Core Sports International, a consulting firm owned by — you guessed it — Choi Soon-sil.
The company ended up sponsoring an equestrian team to the tune of $8 million (£6.6 million) — and one of the members was Chung Yoora, daughter of Choi. It also spent $830,000 (£680,000) on a horse called Vitana V that was used by Chung.
There were reportedly supposed to be six people on the team, but in reality it was only Chung and her coach.
So, is that it?
Samsung has made payments to other initiatives supported by Choi Soon-sil. But this scandal isn’t limited to Samsung. According to the BBC, eight firms so far have admitted giving money to funds linked to the president.
But what makes the whole affair so much stranger is the “cult” allegations.
Choi Soon-sil is the daughter of Choi Tae-min, the now-deceased leader of a cult-like group. Rumours swirled that President Park had been indoctrinated by Choi, to such an extent she felt compelled to deny them in November 2016 when she apologised for her relationship with (the younger) Choi.
There have been claims that I fell for a religious cult or had [shamanist rituals] performed in the Blue House [the presidential palace], but I would like to clarify that those are absolutely not true,” she said, the BBC reported.
It’s a surreal, far-reaching affair — and there’s still plenty we don’t know. But as the investigation continues, it should slowly become clearer.