[Newsmaker] Fall from grace for ‘crown prince’

By Ock Hyun-ju
  • Published : Nov 9, 2016 - 17:21
  • Updated : Nov 9, 2016 - 20:32

At the center of the spiraling influence-peddling scandal engulfing South Korea is Cha Eun-taek, who has been dubbed “crown prince” in the local culture scene for wielding great influence over various state-led cultural projects.

Cha, who was arrested upon his return to Korea from China late Tuesday night, is believed to be a core member of the Choi Soon-sil’s clique attending a secretive meeting to discuss state affairs. His professor and uncle served President Park Geun-hye as culture minister and senior presidential secretary for culture and education, respectively.

By profession, Cha is an award-winning ad film director who gained a reputation in the culture sector in the late 1990s after producing some 800 TV commercials and nearly 200 music videos for famous singers. His latest works include a music video for Psy’s “Hangover” and Big Bang’s “Lie.”

Artistic director Cha Eun-taek responds to reporters' questions upon arriving at Incheon Airport on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

In more recent years, his reputation as a commercial director dwindled. Yet, his influence in the culture scene grew markedly after his appointment in 2014 as a civil member of the Presidential Committee for Cultural Enrichment, a centerpiece of the Park administration’s culture agenda.

He secured a job as an audio director for the 2014 Incheon Asian Games and as a director of the Korean section in the Milano Expo last year. He was recently selected as a chief of public-private partnership to boost the creative economy, a top-ranking government official.

Cha is allegedly involved in some of 20 state-led projects including the establishment of K-Culture Valley in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province, which is expected to cost 1.3 billion won. CJ E&M won the deal last December.

His friendship with Choi goes back years. Cha allegedly helped Chang Si-ho, daughter of Choi’s older sister Choi Soon-deuk who went to the same high school as President Park, debut in the entertainment scene. Chang is involved in a wide-range of influence-peddling allegations in the sports and entertainment scene.

Cha is also suspected of pulling strings in setting up and running the Mir Foundation. All the key posts in the foundation were allegedly filled by those Cha recommended. His former professor was the first president of the foundation.

The Mir Foundation, along with the K-Sports Foundation, were non-profit foundations allegedly involving President Park, Choi and other ex-presidential aides. Choi was arrested on charges of forcing local firms to contribute money to the foundations as an accomplice to former presidential secretary An Chong-bum.

Cha is also suspected of extorting shares in Poreka, an ad firm affiliated with Posco, along with An Chong-bum and Song Sung-gak, Cha’s associate and former chief of the state-run Korea Creative Content Agency. As one of the key men in the multi-faceted Choi Soon-sil scandal, he faces the ever-widening prosecutorial investigation.

By Ock Hyun-ju (