THE SPOILED BRAT

If there was one thing Chung Yoo Ra knew without a doubt by the tender age of 20, it was the importance of money and what it can buy.

"Blame your own parents if they don't have the ability. Don't point fingers at us if your parents don't have what it takes. Money is also a form of ability," she wrote on Facebook in 2014, angering many social media users.

That was the year Ms Chung, an equestrian athlete and the only child of Ms Choi Soon Sil, won a team gold medal at the Incheon Asian Games.

Ms Chung (second from right) and her teammates receiving gold medals at the 17th Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, in 2014.
Ms Chung (second from right) and her teammates receiving gold medals at the 17th Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, in 2014. PHOTO: FEDERATION EQUESTRE INTERNATIONALE

Her father, Mr Chung Yoon Hoi, was a top aide to President Park Geun Hye for years after the latter joined politics in 1998.

Ms Chung was selected by the Korean Equestrian Federation (KEF) to represent the country, despite being ranked in the 500s in the world, raising not just a few eyebrows.

Lawmakers would later say that KEF was kowtowing to Ms Choi, Ms Park's confidante who is at the centre of the power abuse and fraud scandal.

Blame your own parents if they don't have the ability. Don't point fingers at us if your parents don't have what it takes. Money is also a form of ability.
Ms Chung Yoo Ra

KEF also signed fake documents to excuse Ms Chung's absences from high school, and to credit her for volunteer activities she never took part in.

From the perspective of the young woman, who dreamed of representing South Korea in the 2020 Olympic Games, as long as her mother is for her, nobody can be against her, and there is just no stopping her.

Ms Chung performing during the equestrian Dressage Team competition at the 17th Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, on Sept 20, 2014.
Ms Chung performing during the equestrian Dressage Team competition at the 17th Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, on Sept 20, 2014. PHOTO: REUTERS

In March 2015, Samsung Electronics President Park Sang Jin took over the chairmanship of the KEF. Between that time and August 2016, Samsung gave 2.6 billion won (S$3.2 million) to the KEF as sponsorship.

Samsung also gave some 8 billion won to an equestrian team it was developing in Germany with Core Sports International GmbH (later renamed Widec), a consulting firm controlled by Ms Choi, Ms Chung's mother.

Apparently most of that money went to Ms Chung and her coach, including 1 million euros used to buy a horse named Vitana V for her.

Also in March 2015, Ms Chung became an undergraduate at Ewha Womans University, the country's most prestigious college for women, on the strength of her Asian Games performance.

She had not qualified for admission, but the school added equestrian dressage to its special admissions achievements criteria list and took her in, even though her gold medal came four days after the application period had ended.

She was even given good grades for classes she did not attend.

That was a mistake. Students at the university demonstrated for days to protest the preferential treatment. Why, they asked, did they have to study so hard to get into the college when all Ms Chung Yoo Ra did was to be born to rich and powerful parents?

'MUM DID EVERYTHING'

When the scandal broke in October 2016, Ms Chung had already left for Germany with her mother and her one-year-old child. The young woman had married a fellow equestrian in December 2015.

People watching TV news broadcast at a railway station in Seoul on Jan 3, 2017, on the arrest of Ms Chung.
People watching TV news broadcast at a railway station in Seoul on Jan 3, 2017, on the arrest of Ms Chung. PHOTO: AFP

Ms Chung and her mother reportedly stayed in the town of Schmitten, near Frankfurt. She was questioned by local health authorities in October 2015 on suspicions of child abuse for not taking her baby for a checkup required for babies within six months of birth.

Neighbours of the family, who was living in a house on the grounds of an equestrian centre, also reported them to the authorities for living with 15 dogs and five cats.

After Ms Choi flew back to Seoul by herself to face the music, South Korean prosecutors asked Interpol to issue a "red notice" for Ms Chung's arrest and extradition back to the country.

Ms Chung had to answer for alleged criminal interference related to her academic record, and other unspecified charges.

Investigators warned that anyone helping Ms Chung to escape or to destroy evidence would be regarded as an accomplice and could face criminal charges.

Ms Chung knew she had to go on the run to avoid being taken into custody.

She reportedly fled to a luxury hotel in the south-western German city of Karlsruhe, and stayed at the hotel's US$248 (S$350)-a-day suite from late November until early December.

Mum did everything. I don't know anything.
Ms Chung Yoo Ra

On Jan 2, 2017, police finally caught up with her. By then she had sought refuge in the northern Danish city of Aalborg with her son.

The house where Ms Chung was arrested in Aalborg in Denmark on Jan 2, 2017.
The house where Ms Chung was arrested in Aalborg in Denmark on Jan 2, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

Appearing in a Danish court shortly after her arrest to fight extradition back to South Korea, Ms Chung said she was merely an athlete who had no clue about the corruption scandal she was embroiled in.

"Mum did everything. I don't know anything," she told the court, even though she admitted that Samsung bought her a pure-bred horse.

Quizzed by South Korean reporters who had flown to Denmark to cover the court proceedings, Ms Chung likewise proclaimed her innocence.

Kong Hans Gade prison in Aalborg, Denmark where Ms Chung will be detained while South Korean authorities prepare their case for her extradition.
Kong Hans Gade prison in Aalborg, Denmark, where Ms Chung is detained while South Korean authorities prepare their case for her extradition. PHOTO: AFP

"I asked mum to withdraw my name from the school, but that request was not granted," she said of her rule-bending admission to Ewha.

"I came to Germany right after I had my baby so I had no idea who my professor was or other information," she added. "I thought I would automatically be kicked out of school because of my poor attendance record."

She also denied having any knowledge of her mother's dealings with President Park.

"The last time I saw President Park was when my father worked with her and I was in elementary school," she said.

She pleaded with the authorities to let her stay with her baby, saying that the father had left months ago and there was no one to whom she could entrust her child.

"I am only worried about my baby. If [Korean] police allow me to be with my baby, I am willing to return any time," she said.

She remains under detention in Denmark as South Korean authorities prepare their case for her extradition. She said she would voluntarily return to South Korea only if she is allowed to stay together with her baby.

At 20 years of age and her dream of Olympic glory shattered, Ms Chung has finally learnt that there are things money cannot buy.

NEXT

THE 'TOY-BOY'-TURNED-WHISTLE-BLOWER

Source: Korea Herald/Asia News Network, Korea Times, Wall Street Journal, Chosun Ilbo, JoongAng Ilbo, Office of the President (Cheongwadae), Reuters
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