K-pop's Biggest Agencies Drawn Into South Korean Presidential Scandal

Park Geun-Hye
South Korean Presidential Blue House via Getty Images

South Korea's President Park Geun-Hye speaks as she offers a public apology at the at the presidential blue house on Oct. 25, 2016 in Seoul, South Korea.

The political scandal threatening to bring down South Korean President Park Geun-Hye moved into the realm of the Korean entertainment industry this week when K-pop agencies were connected to the family of Choi Soon-Sil, Park’s friend who has been accused by critics of manipulating South Korean politics.

Popular acts like Psy, known internationally for his hit “Gangnam Style,” and Korean rocker Lee Seung Chul denied connections to Choi.

Following Choi’s arrest and Park’s reshuffling of her cabinet this week, the K-pop world was dragged into the mix when Representative Ahn Min Seok of the Democratic Party of Korea told a radio show that Choi’s sister, Choi Soon Deuk, exerted influence over entertainment businesses through her connections with Korean celebrities. According to Ahn, Choi Soon Deuk befriended members of a celebrity soccer team and her daughter, Jang Si Ho, used her family’s influence to become entrenched in the entertainment industry.

YG Entertainment, one of Korea’s Big Three entertainment companies, denied all links to Choi Soon-Sil and her family after rumors ran wild following Ahn’s revelation that a “giant agency and its artist” gained favors from Choi. According to Korean news outlets, the agency refuted any claims of connections to the Choi family, including the alleged relationship between Choi’s niece and Psy, who joined the agency in 2010. The company also denied the rumor that Choi’s niece, Jang Si Ho, was employed by YG. Billboard has also reached out to YG Entertainment for a statement.

Since it was founded in 1996 by CEO Yang Hyun Suk, YG Entertainment has been a leader of K-pop and managed numerous acts including K-pop icons BIGBANG and 2NE1.

The agency of Korean rock star Lee Seung Chul also denied allegations of connections between the singer and Choi, clarifying that he was a member of the celebrity soccer team over a decade ago and has no relationship with Choi. Lee was linked to Ahn’s claims due to his high-profile performances at the closing ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Games in Russia and a UN event earlier this year. 

As more revelations about Choi’s influence were unveiled, the Culture Ministry reassessed and announced this week that it will review all projects allegedly influenced by Choi and her alleged associate, a television commercial director named Cha Eun Taek. Cha was on the Presidential Committee and allegedly used his power to push Choi’s vision on the Culture Ministry. 

Choi, who has never held office nor has any sort of security clearance, was closely involved in Park’s career and personal life to the degree that she reportedly edited some of the president’s most important speeches and oversaw Park’s presidential wardrobe. The discovery of her impact on the Korean government has led to an immense upset in South Korea, where people have taken to the streets to protest the extent of a civilian's pull on Park’s administration.

South Korea is notorious for corruption scandals plaguing politicians and Park was distinguished for having few close connections to influence her. Her father, dictatorial President Park Chung-Hee, ruled Korea from 1961 until 1979 when he was assassinated by the chief of his security team. 

During a televised apology on Friday (Nov. 4) where Park took full blame for the political turmoil, she emphasized that it was her connection with Choi that led to the situation. “I put too much faith in a personal relationship and didn’t look carefully at what was happening,” she told South Korea, appearing on the verge of tears.

Park said she will cooperate with the police investigation surrounding Choi’s activities.