SEOUL, March 29 (Korea Bizwire) – The Park Geun-hye administration’s rule, which collapsed with its leader’s impeachment, was not the best of times for CJ, a major food and media conglomerate in South Korea.
A year and half after President Park took office in 2013, CJ Vice Chairwoman Lee Mi-kyung (who was the de facto leader of the group with the ailing chairman, Lee Jay-hyun, behind bars) withdrew from the leadership in October 2014, ostensibly citing “too much involvement” in the group’s business affairs.
However, as President Park’s scandal unfolded last year, it was revealed that she had once pressured CJ to part ways with its vice chairwoman. Several hypotheses prevail as to why the ousted president would involve herself in a conglomerate’s leadership affairs, but among the plausible arguments is a TV show and two movies produced by CJ’s entertainment and media content production company, CJ E&M.
CJ featured on SNL Korea in June 2012, months before the presidential election between Park and Moon Jae-in, a special corner dubbed Yeouido (a Seoul island that houses the National Assembly) Teletubbies.
The sitcom-like play ridiculed politicians at the time with Po presumably portraying Ms. Park; Po’s color was also symbolic of Ms. Park’s conservative party, the Saenuri Party, which had red as its official color. In the show, Po threw around obscenities to humor the audience, prompting the Saenuri Party to even file an objection with the election broadcasting deliberation committee, but to no avail.
The two films that seemingly affronted Park and her conservative supporters here were Masquerade, released in September 2012, and The Attorney, from December 2013, allegedly depicting the late liberal president, Roh Moo-hyun (the latter was in fact inspired by President Roh).
According to investigators, Ms. Park expressed to her senior aide, Cho Won-dong, “concerns” for CJ Group, and her intentions to have CJ’s vice chairwoman withdrawn from leadership in April 2013, the same month CJ confirmed the production of The Attorney. CJ had already been struggling at the time with the arrest of Chairman Lee Jay-hyun for tax evasion and embezzlement.
The next day, Cho told Sohn Kyung-shik, then-president of the Korea Chamber of Commerce & Industry and Lee’s uncle, to oust Lee from the leadership, saying that it was the will of a VIP. Later in the month, Cho once again urged Sohn, saying, “we want CJ to remain a healthy business, without political bias,” again emphasizing that he was relaying the opinions of the president. CJ ultimately refused to comply with the demand, although the vice chairman did eventually step down.
The special prosecution team that probed the scandal concluded that Park and Cho coerced and threatened CJ to oust Lee, and charged the two with attempted coercion. One of Park’s lawyers, Yoo Young-ha, however, refuted the allegations earlier this month and said that the president had no prejudice towards the media giant.
By Kevin Lee (email@example.com)