Olympics: 2018 Games feel heat of political scandal

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SEOUL: The snowballing corruption scandal engulfing South Korean President Park Geun-Hye is affecting preparations for the 2018 Winter Olympics, with sponsors wary the event might be tainted by the fallout, officials said Thursday.

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The scandal has focused on Choi Soon-Sil, a long-time friend of the president, who has been charged with fraud and abuse of power.

Prosecutors are investigating allegations that Choi leveraged her personal ties with Park to coerce donations from large companies like Samsung to non-profit foundations which she set up and used for personal gain.

In recent days, other reports have emerged linking Choi to companies that bid for lucrative contracts for the 2018 Games to be held in the South Korean ski resort of Pyeongchang.

The reports have spooked some sponsors, who fear the criminal investigation will be widened to include the Pyeongchang preparations.

“We initially planned to sign memoranda of understanding with three sponsor companies this week and the next,” Sung Baik-Yu, spokesman for the Pyeongchang Organising Committee, told Agence France-Presse.

“But they wanted to put it off till December, citing the probe, and we agreed to do so,” Sung said.

The head of the organizing committee, Lee Hee-Beom, said Wednesday that IOC president Thomas Bach had expressed concern over the fallout of the Choi scandal when he met a South Korean delegation in Lausanne.

The organizing committee says it has achieved 83 percent of the 940 billion won ($817 million) sponsorship target set for the Games, and aims to secure 90 percent of by the end of the year.

Lee took over as head of the organizing committee after the sudden resignation in May of Korean Air chairman Cho Yang-Ho.

Cho said he was stepping down to deal with the crisis surrounding another of his companies, Hanjin Shipping.

But news reports later suggested he was forced out for refusing to award a contract to a company linked with Choi Soon-Sil.

Cho said the news reports were “90 percent correct”, but declined to give any details. AFP

AFP/CC

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