Dressage

Friend of Impeached South Korean President Is Just 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 doesn’t involve just some mere co-conspirer, but the heir of Samsung—yes, Samsung, the biggest smartphone manufacturer in the world.

As we were blowing things up with the Samsung Galaxy 7, the company was digging itself into—of all things—a dressage scandal as impressive as lead changes on every stride.

At an ongoing corruption trial starting 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 would expect some devious behavior, but it is shaping up to be plain old bribery.

Yes, Core Sports is an equestrian sports company, but it has one problem: it only has one client, Chung Yoo-Ra, the daughter of the President’s close friend, Choi Soon-sil.

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 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 actual accredited horse knowledge is on the payroll.

Meanwhile, regular salaries were received by Yoo-Ra’s husband and a family friend who were paid to take care of pets and other household items while Yoo-Ra was away riding. Perhaps while we all wish we could pay our friends and family because for all the ridiculousness we put them through at horses shows. Perhaps paying them through a fund meant for political bribery isn’t the best option.

When one equestrian expert who consulted with Core Sports told Samsung that it seemed implausible that Yoo-Ra would be ready and capable of this kind of training, he said Samsung seemed to “let Choi Soon-sil do what she wantedalmost 100%.” Others say that Soon-sil simply didn’t allow Core Sports to find more talent.

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


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.