The Ministry of Justice on Thursday sent a formal request to Denmark for the extradition of Chung Yoo-ra.
Chung is a high-profile suspect in the scandal involving her mother, Choi Soon-sil, and President Park Geun-hye. The only daughter of Choi went on the run in Europe after her mother presented herself to prosecutors in South Korea. Choi was jailed and is currently on trial.
Chung was arrested Sunday night in the Danish town of Aalborg for overstaying her visa. A Danish district court Monday extended her detention to Jan. 30, and a high court on Tuesday rejected her appeal against the district court’s decision.
The independent counsel team investigating the scandal hopes to bring her in soon, but if she contests her extradition, it could be years before she returns to Korea. That would be the worst-case scenario for the special prosecutors.
Chung’s current situation could follow in the footsteps of that of Yoo Sum-na, the daughter of Yoo Byung-eon, owner of the Sewol ferry that sank in 2014, leaving more than 300 dead or missing. Investigators at that time placed the Yoo family on the wanted list.
Yoo Byung-eon was found dead, but his daughter bolted to France, where she was later arrested. She has been fighting extradition from France for two years and eight months now. Seoul has still not brought in Yoo Sum-na despite placing her on an Interpol Red Notice and invalidating her passport, as has been done with Chung.
The best-case scenario is that Chung voluntarily comes back to South Korea and turns herself in to prosecutors. However, this now looks unlikely.
She told a Danish court hearing on her request for release from detention that she would not refuse to be extradited if she is guaranteed the ability to stay with her child, without detention, while being investigated.
She was arrested with her 2-year-old son, a nanny in her 60s and two young men. But special prosecutors dismissed the proposal.
Chung seems to be digging her heels in. She hired an attorney from a large law firm -- not a public defender -- and reportedly has half a mind to appeal if the court rules to extradite her.
Chung should be extradited to South Korea as soon as possible. There are many reasons why she should be.
She may provide the information needed to put together the pieces of the puzzle in the Choi scandal, which also involves Chung. Special prosecutors need to question her to discover the truth.
The special favors Chung received have stunned the nation.
She cut many classes in high school, yet graduated. She violated the admission regulations of Ewha Womans University, yet was admitted. She skipped classes at university, yet earned credits and favorable grades.
All of these favors were possible thanks to her mother’s Rasputin-like influence over President Park.
After the irregularities were discovered, authorities canceled her high school graduation, which automatically invalidated her university admission. Investigation into the irregularities related to Chung are still ongoing.
Chung also received horse-riding-related favors from Samsung Electronics. In August, 2015, about a month after Park met with Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, the company agreed to pay 22 billion won ($18.4 million) to Core Sports International, a sports consulting firm owned by her mother. The agreement called for Samsung to develop a team of six equestrians. Samsung has actually paid out 8 billion won of the funds. The money, however, was spent only for Chung.
The deal is being examined by prosecutors as they try to find out whether Samsung sought favors from Choi and Park in return for funding a foundation run by Choi‘s niece, Jang Si-ho, and two foundations set up by a business lobby and suspected of being controlled by Choi.
Prosecutors are also looking at whether Choi and Park influenced the National Pension Service into voting for the merger of two Samsung subsidiaries, Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries, on unfavorable terms for Samsung C&T shareholders.
Chung’s return to Korea might prove to be the last straw for Choi, who has denied most of the charges against her. Special prosecutors expect the detention of Chung to pressure Choi into confessing.
Chung herself is an important witness privy to what went on between her mother and Park.
If her extradition is delayed, special prosecutors will be pressed for time in building up evidence, and may have to wrap up their investigation with many loose ends. Their investigation deadline is Feb. 28.
It is the special counsel team’s duty to complete their fact-finding without leaving any doubts. To do so, it should question Chung. Expedition of the legal process for her extradition is needed.