South Korea's prosecutor says indicts former top Park aide, ex-minister

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea’s special prosecutor has indicted a former culture minister and a former top aide to President Park Geun-hye on charges of abuse of power, coercion and perjury for their role in drafting a blacklist of dissenting artists, a spokesman said.

Culture Minister Cho Yoon-sun arrives at the Seoul Central District court in Seoul, South Korea, January 20, 2017. Yoo Seung-kwan/News1 via REUTERS

The indictments are the latest twist in a corruption scandal that has gripped the country for months and led to the impeachment of Park by parliament in December.

A Constitutional Court is reviewing the impeachment vote. If it is upheld, Park will have to leave office and a presidential election will be called.

Lee Kyu-chul, spokesman for the special prosecutor’s office investigating the scandal, told a briefing on Tuesday former culture minister Cho Yoon-sun, and a former presidential chief of staff, Kim Ki-choon, had been indicted.

“The special prosecutor’s office has indicted Kim Ki-choon, Cho Yoon-sun ... for abusing power and coercion by making artists and entertainers and organizations with different opinions from the government excluded from support,” Lee said.

Both Cho, who last month became the first sitting member of Park’s administration to be arrested in connection with the scandal, and Kim denied the existence of a blacklist, or playing a role in drawing one up, though Cho later said she had heard of such a list.

The presidential Blue House has also denied that a blacklist existed.

Park has been accused of allowing a friend, Choi Soon-sil, to exert inappropriate influence over state affairs.

Choi is accused of colluding with Park to pressure big businesses to contribute to non-profit foundations backing the president’s initiatives.

Both have denied wrongdoing.

The special prosecutor’s office said the government and state entities used the blacklist as a “guideline” to penalize artists and censor content.

The culture ministry said last month artists deemed critical of Park had been put on a list and excluded from government support. It apologized for what it said had been a systematic effort to sideline Park’s critics.

Lee said the special prosecutor’s team sought to question Park, perhaps on Friday, but was discussing details with the president’s side.

Prosecution officials hoping to search offices in the presidential Blue House as part of their investigation were blocked from entering the compound last week.

Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Robert Birsel