Friend of Impeached South Korean President Is the World’s Most Powerful Barn Mom


If you ever wanted to read a corruption case turned equestrian-themed soap opera, look no further than the recent impeachment of former South Korean President Park Geun-hye.

And this story, covered extensively in the Wall Street Journal, doesn’t involve just some mere co-conspirer but the heir of Samsung, the world’s largest smartphone manufacturer.

As the rest of the world was busy blowing up the Samsung Galaxy 7, the company was digging itself into—of all things—a dressage scandal as impressive as tempis on a serpentine.

At an ongoing corruption trial, started on April 7 of this year, Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong was accused of ordering the company to spend $18.6 million on a small German equestrian company called Core Sports. With a name that menacingly generic, you’d almost expect criminal shenanigans. But it’s shaping up to be just plain ol’ bribery.

Prosecutors in the case allege that Samsung used the money for political favors. Specifically, political favors from the former president’s close friend, Choi Soon-sil. You see, while Core Sports is an equestrian sports company, it only has one client—Chung Yoo-Ra—and she happens to be Soon-sil’s daughter.

Reported the Wall Street Journal:

Samsung’s Mr. Lee is accused of having ordered his company to fund Core Sports. In return, prosecutors allege Ms. Choi colluded with Ms. Park to have the then-president direct the country’s pension service to vote in favor of a 2015 merger of two Samsung affiliates that was seen as a critical step in consolidating Mr. Lee’s grip on Samsung Electronics Co. , the world’s biggest smartphone maker.

Defense attorneys for Jae-yong acknowledge that money went to the company, but not that it went to fund Yoo-Ra’s budding dressage career.

However, the evidence isn’t casting a glowing light.

A contract signed by Core Sports at a posh hotel in Frankfurt in 2015, and later reviewed by the Wall Street Journal, show that the company was expected to have at least 12 horses and six riders. The three-year contract also specified for the training of these riders to be world-class competitors for the 2018 World Equestrian Games. Yet aside from Yoo-Ra, no other rider had been found.

In fact, only one person with accredited horse knowledge is on the Core Sports’ payroll.

Others include Yoo-Ra’s husband and a family friend who were paid regular salaries to take care of pets and other household items while Yoo-Ra was away riding. Because really, don’t we all wish we could pay our friends and family for the ridiculousness we put them through to show horses?

The testimony of Park Won-oh, a former official at the Korea Equestrian Federation who was hired to consult Samsung on equestrian matters, plays heavily in the prosecution’s case, reports the Wall Street Journal. According to Woh-oh, it seemed implausible that Core Sports was equipped to train the aspiring championship rider and that Samsung seemed to “let Choi Soon-sil do what she wantedalmost 100%,” According to the Wall Street Journal. 

Mr. Park said he was perplexed at the time by why a company as large and powerful as Samsung would be so pliable to Ms. Choi’s demands, even when it was “doubtful” that Core Sports had the capacity to train Ms. Chung at the time of the agreement.

Others say that Soon-sil simply didn’t allow Core Sports to find more talent.

Yoo-Ra has denied any knowledge of her mother’s actions, and Soon-sil’s lawyers maintain that the funds were not meant exclusively for her daughter. But one can only imagine Soon-sil is a fierce barn mom—one not to be messed with in the schooling ring.

Read the ongoing story at the Wall Street Journal.  

About the Author

Gretchen Lida is a Colorado native and nonfiction MFA candidate at Columbia College Chicago. Her work has appeared in Chicago Review of Books, Horse Network, Mud Season Review, and others. She also rides horses and thinks about Aldo Leopold in Wisconsin.

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