S.Korean culture minister in custody over artist blacklist

Seoul: A South Korean court on Saturday issued an arrest warrant for the country’s culture minister over her alleged role in the creation of a supposed blacklist of dissident artists.

By issuing the warrant, the Seoul Central District Court acceded to the prosecution’s request to arrest Cho Yoon-sun on charges of abuse of authority and perjury, and particularly for having created a list of around 10,000 artists, writers and entertainers critical of the South Korean administration in a bid to deny them state grants, Efe news reported.

Judges also decided to allow the arrest of the former presidential chief of staff, Kim Ki-choon, who may have authored the list.

Investigators believe the list to have been another instrument within the coercion and extortion web allegedly orchestrated by Choi Soon-sil, the woman at the centre of the national-level corruption scandal and who has been dubbed the “Korean Rasputin” for her proximity to President Park Geun-hye.

The court ruled in favour of keeping Cho and Kim in police custody, saying the charges were substantiated, and there was a risk of them destroying the evidence, according to Yonhap NewsAgency.

Investigators are now studying Choi’s possible links with the blacklist, which includes the names of acclaimed film directors like Song Kang-ho, Park Chan-wook, Kim Ki-duk, Lee Chang-dong, Lee Woo-jin and Ryoo Seung-wan, and writers such as Han Kang, who won the Man Booker Prize last year.

While prosecutors say the list constitutes a serious violation of people’s freedom of thought and expression, Cho and Kim denied all charges during their interrogations this week, which lasted 21 and 15 hours, respectively.

Cho was presidential secretary for political affairs between 2014 and 2015 before she was named culture minister in 2016, while Kim was presidential chief of staff between 2013 and 2015, and is said to have exerted great influence on state affairs beyond the ambit of his position.

On Thursday, a court rejected the arrest warrant against Lee Jae-yong, heir and de facto chief of Samsung Group, who is accused of donating funds to Choi-controlled organisations in exchange for favours.