My goal was to only write the one article about the Park Geun Hye/Choi Soon Sil scandal, and even that was mainly just linking to somebody else’s explainer. However, that was always wishful thinking, as this mess was always connected to the entertainment world.
Among the clusterfuck, Choi reportedly received the Ministry Of Culture, Sports, And Tourism‘s budget proposal (more than ~$150 million) and allocated that to her friends in the entertainment industry. Furthermore, the connection reportedly had serious consequences for the Ministry, including the firing, demotion, and resignation of people who clashed with Park’s government — and that’s saying nothing of the Ministry’s reported blacklist of close to 10,000 artists that didn’t fall in line with Park’s government.
Specifically speaking, scrutiny has recently fallen on Choi associate Cha Eun Taek. Cha is most known for directing music videos of Psy, 2NE1, T-ara (of course … OF COURSE), and Hyori, but it was his appointment by the Park government to influential positions in the Korea Tourism Organization, the Presidential Committee For Cultural Enrichment, and the Creative Economy Initiative that is now drawing scrutiny given his connection with Choi. It’s said that Cha also got his own circle into positions in the Culture Ministry and Blue House thanks to his relationship with Choi.
Perhaps most notably, though, is the recent reports that YG Entertainment is somehow involved in this mess. The other day, YGE artist Psy was accused of having benefited from the scandal, with reports saying that he was close with both Cha and Jang Siho, Choi’s niece. Jang is suspected of using her connections to receive undue government money to fund her projects, and it was alleged that Psy benefited by supposedly getting invited to an unusual amount of international events to represent South Korea. Additionally, Jang’s mother (Choi’s sister, Choi Soon Deuk), who has also been tied to the scandal, was alleged to have been using celebrity team Tornado FC to influence the entertainment business.
For their part, YGE denied both their involvement and Psy’s involvement in this scandal.
“YG Entertainment has been connected with rumors regarding ‘Choi Soon Sil-gate,’ and because news outlets are reporting this as true, we are making a statement to dispute these rumors.
This is YGE’s official position on the various rumors related to ‘Choi Soon Sil-gate’:
1. It is not true that YG Entertainment has gone into business with Jang Siho.
2. It is absolutely not true that Psy has a close, friendly relationship with Jang Siho. As the two have never even met, they do not even know each other.
3. Psy has no affiliation with Tornado FC.
YGE relays our stance that these rumors, which have been exaggerated and reproduced both orally and via SNS, have absolutely no foundation, and in fact we will be seeking legal action against those who propagated these rumors unlawfully.”
As much as I’m here for schadenfreude, this makes sense. After all, why would Psy need to rely on favors to represent South Korea at international events when he’s obviously the biggest known pop act from the country due to “Gangnam Style” going viral organically? Sounded a lot less like YGE and Psy were involved in this mess and a lot more like people were just making them guilty by alleged association. Honestly, I don’t think that accusation was even taken that seriously, thus I didn’t even bother writing about it cause I figured it would pass.
Today, however, Dispatch released an exclusive report that implicated YGE in the Choi saga yet again, this time less due to spurious reasons related to Psy, and more due to the circumstances surrounding the development of a YGE cultural complex.
The report lays the foundation for the reported relationship between Park and YGE, recapping YGE’s extensive involvement with Park’s culture initiatives, including roping Big Bang into this mess. However, that’s still normal stuff because YGE and their artists are in fact important and popular entertainers, so connections to the government aren’t shocking. But that’s where YGE’s business agreement for a development project with the city of Uijeongbu comes into play and things get murkier.
Eyebrows were raised when the Blue House (presidential residence, much like the White House in the U.S.) announced the ‘Uijeongbu Comprehensive Culture Complex Development’ planning brief. YG Entertainment made a business agreement with the city of Uijeongbu on January 16, 2015, in order to develop the ‘K-POP Cluster’ complex. YG was set to invest 100 billion KRW (~$92 million) into the complex.
Nothing out of the ordinary, but then came the “personal connection” to YGE stuff.
The problem, however, was in the selection process. An open public bidding did not take place. When the city officials of Uijeongbu were questioned, the answer was that the contractor was chosen because of a personal tie or special connection. During a phone call with ‘Dispatch’ on November 4, an Uijeongbu official stated, “Regarding the K-Pop Cluster, we had a personal connection with YG, so we suggested that they join in the business. There was no contact with the other agencies.” However, according to Korea law (Local Contract Law, Article 9, clause 1), when a local government is trying to hire a contractor, they must hold an open public bidding. It is to prevent any undue or unlawful influence in the decision-making process.
Experts are now questioning how YGE was chosen for the project for obvious reasons, and those questions are only growing due to the sudden spike in land value brought on by a government-funded highway being built in the area.
The land YG will be buying is 49,600㎡ (around 12.2 acres). Based on the information YG released to media, YG had prepared 37,500,000,000 KRW (around $32.8 million USD). That is a price of about 2,500,000 KRW ($2,190 USD) per 3.3㎡. However, the price has risen dramatically to about 8,000,000 KRW ($7,000 USD) per 3.3㎡ because of a new highway that is being built near the area.
If one connects things like that with the way Park helped push the development of the complex past pesky stuff like zoning laws, it certainly looks worse.
The Greenbelt zoning law that was the only hurdle to going forward with the project is also being taken care of by the government. Back on July 7 of this year, President Park emphasized that there should be urgent action for the Uijeongbu Comprehensive Culture Complex establishment, during the 10th annual Commerce Investment Promotion Meeting. The next day, on July 8, Ahn Byung Yong, the mayor of Uijeongbu thanked the president, stating, “Because of President Park’s order, the Secretary of Land Infrastructure and Transport along with the Secretary of Culture Sports and Tourism promised that they would work to clear the limited development policies.” One word from President Park and the difficult obstacles in the way were solved. An Uijeongbu official told Dispatch, “Reviews from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport have been completed. After the paperwork is done, we will announce the clearance of the greenbelt zone.” When everything is over, YG will triple its profit from the investment with the sale of the land.
The Dispatch report goes on to mention that experts are even comparing the situation to SM Entertainment having to go through public bidding to build SMTOWN @ COEX Artium in 2012, which has to be a kick to the nuts for YGE.
So while we don’t know if YGE is involved in any shady backroom dealings related to the Park/Choi mess, none of this is a good look for the company on the surface, especially when it’s attached to a scandal of this magnitude and the press that comes with it. In any case, YGE are now definitely a part of this shitstorm, and it should be interesting to see if they can get out from under this or if things only get worse from here.
Personally, it wouldn’t be shocking at all to find out that an entertainment company was involved in some shady shit involving the government, so I’m definitely not disregarding the possibility of YGE being involved as some kind of conspiracy theory. That said, I’m still skeptical that YGE are seriously involved, at least in the sense that this scandal is so significant and has such major implications for South Korea that basically anybody even tangentially connected to Park/Choi will be scrutinized and roped in … for better or worse.
As some have pointed out in the comments, CJ Group is also now being linked to the scandal. While that doesn’t seem like as big of a deal from a K-pop fandom drama perspective, it would be a far greater mess in general than promised (for once) than any reported YGE link.
If I’m missing anything, let me know, cause it’s hard to parse all of the mess.