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Ruling party lawmaker blames Samsung for 'unfair' short track refereeing

An Min-suk says Korea’s influence shrank as Samsung cut support

Rep. An Min-suk (center) of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (Yonhap)
Rep. An Min-suk (center) of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (Yonhap)
Rep. An Min-suk of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea is once again raising controversy, this time linking unfair decisions at the Beijing Olympics to Samsung.

An said in a radio interview Wednesday that the core reason behind the refereeing decisions that disqualified two short track speedskaters in the men’s 1,000-meter semifinals on Monday is that Samsung Group stopped financial support for the Korea Skating Union.

Samsung provided financial support for the local skating authority for 21 years beginning in 1997, devoting 22 billion won ($18.4 million) in total to help South Korean athletes reach an internationally competitive level in terms of skating.

But the conglomerate stopped the support after the “Choi Soon-sil scandal” in 2016, An added, which ended with the impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye and imprisonment of her and her close confidante Choi Seo-won, who was then known as Choi Soon-sil.

“From this scandal, Kim Jae-yeol, son-in-law of Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee, stepped down from his seat as the president of the Korea Skating Union (in 2016),” An said during the interview.

The conglomerate officially ended its supportive relationship with the Korea Skating Union in mid-2018 with the resignation of its then-President Kim Sang-hang, representing Samsung, following a series of controversies that unraveled during the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games.

“And that started a vacancy period of four to five years for the skating field of South Korea,” An said.

An connected that Samsung’s influence in the International Skating Union and International Olympic Committee would have fallen accordingly. He added the IOC is a “strictly commercialized organization,” alluding that countries committing more funds would exert greater influence.

The lawmaker contended it was South Korea’s loss of influence that made referees rule in favor of China during the Olympics, adding fuel to accusations that the relationship between the International Olympic Committee and the referees was “biased and not transparent.”

Yet An was a central figure in leading Samsung to cut financial support for sports organizations, as he was at the forefront of denouncing Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong in special hearings held in December 2016 in regards to Samsung’s involvement in the emerging scandal.

Lee was then accused of promising to give or giving donations worth 43.3 billion won as a bribe to nonprofit foundations run by Choi and sponsoring Choi’s daughter by presenting her with expensive horses.

At one point during the hearing, An denounced Lee for claiming that he was unaware of the fact that donations had been made to Choi, saying the comment “exemplifies that Vice Chairman Lee is incompetent or a person who makes a fool of the people.”

It is not the first time An has made controversial, sometimes factually erroneous, comments in his role as a senior member of the Democratic Party.

An claimed in a radio interview last month that the main opposition People Power Party falsely said Kim Keon-hee, the wife of its presidential nominee Yoon Suk-yeol, had traveled to the Czech Republic in 2014, in connection to rumors surrounding her past life.

The lawmaker argued that the main opposition party’s claim was false, as he could not find immigration records of Kim for that year. Yet it was found later that the records existed and the fault was that An had searched using the wrong keywords.

An also faced criticism in December for falsely denying claims surrounding the first outside recruit to join the ruling party’s presidential election campaign committee.

In response to rumors that Cho Dong-youn, a professor of military studies at Seokyeong University, had a child born out of wedlock during her marriage with her first husband, An claimed in a radio interview that all such reports were “fake news” and “verified to be factually incorrect.”

Yet Cho acknowledged the rumors and resigned from the co-chair seat of the campaign committee within days of her appointment.

A month earlier, An had shared a video of Yoon participating at a memorial event for former President Kim Young-sam, in which An claimed that Yoon made an insulting comment to his assistant at the scene. It was found later that Yoon did not make any insult, and An walked back from his claim without an explanation.

He also claimed in a radio interview in November that Yoon must be behind spreading false information that Lee beat his wife to cause injuries when the Democratic Party’s campaign team announced that Lee canceled all activities for Nov. 9 to care for his wife after an accident.

“The Yoon Suk-yeol camp must not be irrelevant to the continued spread of fake news,” he said in a radio interview on Nov. 15. “It’s not that (I received any tips on), but this is something I can reasonably assume in a political sense.”

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)
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