COPENHAGEN The daughter of a central figure in an influence-peddling scandal that triggered the ouster of South Korean President Park Geun-hye is ready to claim political asylum in Denmark as she fears for her safety if she's forced to return home, her lawyer told Reuters.
Chung Yoo-ra is the daughter of Choi Soon-sil, a friend of Park accused of colluding with the former president to pressure businesses to contribute to non-profit foundations. Both Choi and Park have denied wrongdoing.
Chung, 21, was arrested by Danish police on Jan. 1 after she was sought by South Korean authorities who want her extradited.
"If all court instances say she should be extradited then it's political asylum," Chung's lawyer Peter Martin Blinkenberg said by phone on his way to visit Chung, who is being held in a prison in northern Denmark.
Denmark's Public Prosecutor expects to decide by March 22 whether or not to allow Chung's extradition. That decision can be appealed to the district court, and could thereafter go to the high court and even to the supreme court.
"Actually, it wasn't something I was going to argue in the beginning, but you can see how they behave in South Korea and that the opposition party has been part of appointing this special prosecutor," Blinkenberg said, referring to the option of political asylum.
South Korea's Constitutional Court dismissed Park from office last week, upholding a parliamentary impeachment vote.
"She (Chung) is obviously connected to her mother, and her mother is apparently linked to the (ousted) president... There's no doubt Yoo-ra would return and experience a very large resistance against her person," Blinkenberg said.
In addition to concerns about her safety, he said he feared Chung was being used to get her mother to talk. "We have the feeling they are not really interested in Yoo-ra, but if they can use her as leverage they would be willing to do that."
Chung has been accused of criminal interference related to her academic record. South Korean authorities have also been investigating whether Samsung Electronics channelled money to a German firm controlled by Choi to sponsor Chung's equestrian career in return for favours from Choi and Park.
Jay Y. Lee, the head of Samsung Group is on trial in South Korea on bribery, embezzlement and other charges. He has denied all charges.
Chung, who won a gold medal in group dressage at the 2014 Asian Games, has denied any wrongdoing.
Blinkenberg said he was working with the authorities to see if Chung could be reunited with her infant son, who is in Denmark, until things are decided. "The wait is bad enough, but what she can't stand is that she is not with her child," he said.
The South Korean prosecutors office was not immediately available for comment.
(Reporting by Stine Jacobsen; Editing by Ian Geoghegan)