THE 'TOY BOY'-TURNED-WHISTLE-BLOWER

For Ko Young Tae, a former national fencer who won a gold medal at the 1998 Asian Games, the road to infamy began with a puppy.

The dog belongs to Ms Chung Yoo Ra, the only child of Ms Choi Soon Sil, the villain in the corruption scandal that has cost Ms Park the presidency.

By his own account, Mr Ko first met Ms Choi in 2012, shortly after Ms Park was elected President.

"When I was running a bag manufacturing company called Villomillo, my friend asked me to bring some new items (to a designated place), so I did. That's when I saw Ms Choi for the first time," Mr Ko told lawmakers at a televised parliamentary hearing on the Park-Choi corruption scandal in December.

Ms Choi was the well-heeled patron who commissioned him to design 40 bags made of ostrich skin and crocodile leather, as well as 100 clothing items for Ms Park's wardrobe.

Ms Choi paid tens of thousands of dollars for the purchases, said Mr Ko.

There is talk that Mr Ko, who at age 41 is 20 years younger than Ms Choi, became her toy boy.

Mr Ko appearing at the Seoul Central District Court on Feb 6, 2017.
Mr Ko appearing at the Seoul Central District Court on Feb 6, 2017. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM YOUTUBE

Mr Ko denies it, but the incident in 2014 which drove him to exact revenge on Ms Choi can be described only as domestic.

Ms Choi had left a puppy in Mr Ko's care, but he went out to play golf instead, leaving the animal home alone.

When Ms Choi came home and saw that the puppy was left unattended, she blew her top, he said.

"She was angry that I left the dog alone, and we had a fight," Mr Ko said at the parliamentary hearing, explaining why he blew the whistle on Ms Choi and her influence over President Park.

Resentment began to build up in him following the row, he said.

"She treated me like a slave, swearing at me many times," he said.

By then, he knew only too well Ms Choi's influence over the President, to the extent that she edited Ms Park's important speeches and decided what the latter wore in public.

She treated me like a slave, swearing at me many times.
Mr Ko Young Tae on Ms Choi Soon Sil

He decided to expose Ms Choi’s ties with Ms Park to the media, and began collecting evidence.

He videotaped Ms Choi giving orders to two presidential aides in 2014 as if they were servants.

One of the aides even wiped a smartphone on his shirt before handing it reverentially to Ms Choi.

Mr Ko gave the clip to Chosun TV in 2015, but the news channel held on to it as its journalists gathered evidence by investigating the two foundations, Mir and K-Sports, that Ms Choi had set up to receive "donations" from business conglomerates in exchange for favourable treatment by the government.

Mr Ko then approached another broadcaster, JTBC. "Choi's favourite thing to do is to edit presidential speeches," he said in an interview with JTBC in October 2016.

Somewhat coincidentally, JTBC would go on to obtain a discarded tablet that apparently belonged to Ms Choi and which contained drafts of 44 speeches and statements that Ms Park had given between 2012 and 2014.

Many passages had been edited, with the changes marked in red.

On Oct 24, 2016, JTBC aired the scoop of the year. Chosun TV went to town with its incriminating video clips the following day.

Ms Choi was swiftly taken into custody. President Park apologised, thrice, to the nation.

Mr Ko has become a hero to many in South Korea.

"You opened Pandora’s box," Mr Sohn Hye Won, an opposition lawmaker, told Mr Ko during the hearing.

REVENGE IS A DISH BEST-SERVED COLD

But there may be more to Mr Ko than what he let on, going by various accounts.

South Korean media reported that he had worked at well-known host bars, where women can solicit sexual services from male "hosts", in the posh Seoul district of Gangnam.

It was at one such bar that he and Ms Choi reportedly met around 2006, said the reports.

"Ko made a lot of money with his good looks," said an anonymous man who claimed to be Mr Ko's co-worker at the bar on a Christian radio show in October, a few days after the Choi-gate scandal broke.

The man said Mr Ko's job at the bar was to bring in rich middle-aged women customers.

"I assume that Choi was one of Ko's close customers as they are on friendly terms with each other despite the 20-year age gap between them," said the man.

Mr Ko reportedly entered the fashion business with help from Ms Choi. His accessory brand Villomillo shot to fame after President Park carried a bag he designed in 2013.

Celebrity customers came knocking on his door. Mr Ko even became a member of the local entertainment scene, and joined a celebrity baseball team called Play Boys.

I was hot-tempered and never thought about that part, and I have no regrets.
Mr Ko Young Tae on blowing the whistle on Ms Choi's cosy ties with President Park Geun Hye

Meanwhile, he is suspected of managing The Blue K and Widec Sports - shell companies Ms Choi set up in South Korea and Germany allegedly to siphon money from the Mir and K-Sports foundations.

The unlikely couple started, however, to grow apart in June 2014 after Mr Ko introduced Ms Choi to Mr Cha Eun Taek, a famous director of commercials.

South Korean artistic director Cha Eun Taek is escorted by officers while arriving to answer questions at a parliamentary hearing at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, on Dec 7, 2016.
South Korean artistic director Cha Eun Taek is escorted by officers while arriving to answer questions at a parliamentary hearing at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, on Dec 7, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

Ms Choi and Mr Cha rapidly became close, and Ms Choi started to lean on the latter’s counsel instead.

Things came to a head for Mr Ko after his fight with Ms Choi over the puppy. He was scorned, he wanted revenge, and he could not care less what Ms Choi might do to him.

He told lawmakers: "I was hot-tempered and never thought about that, and I have no regrets."

NEXT

THE TROUBLED HEIR

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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