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[Newsmaker] Cho Kuk mulled for justice minister

The presidential office has begun taking steps to appoint Cho Kuk, senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, as the next justice minister.

Cheong Wa Dae is carrying out the basic vetting process, such as looking into Cho’s reputation. It considers him one of the strongest candidates for justice minister in the Cabinet reshuffle expected to take place as early as late July.


Cheong Wa Dae has begun gathering basic data on Cho, such as his tax payment and immigration records, while Justice Minister Park Sang-ki is preparing for the transition, officials of the ruling party and the presidential office reportedly said.

If appointed, Cho is expected to lead the legislative branch in the reform of the prosecution, along with Prosecutor-General nominee Yoon Seok-youl. Reform measures include establishing a separate agency to investigate crimes by high-ranking officials and handing over some of the prosecution’s investigative authority to the police.

President Moon Jae-in said in a televised interview in May that he has no plans to “recommend politics” to Cho, adding that whether he runs in elections is entirely up to him to decide.

“Reforming institutions of power is also an important responsibility of the senior presidential secretary for civil affairs,” Moon said at the time.

“I think the government has done much of what it can (to reform the prosecution). We are left with the legislation process, which I hope (Cho) can successfully complete.”

Cho has denied speculation that he may run in the parliamentary elections next year, saying he will return to teaching at Seoul National University when his term as senior presidential aide ends. He has not said anything about the possibility of joining the Cabinet.

The former law professor is the only one of Moon’s first senior presidential secretaries taking office in May 2017 who still remains in his post.

However, if the senior presidential aide is appointed as justice minister right away, opposition parties are likely to criticize this as a “revolving door” appointment -- just as they did when Moon named Kim Sang-jo, chief of the Fair Trade Commission who still had a year left in his term, as his new senior presidential secretary for policy last week.

When a senior presidential secretary for civil affairs was named as a justice minister candidate in the former Lee Myung-bak administration in July 2011, the then-opposition Democratic Party strongly protested, saying such an appointment was unprecedented.

By Kim So-hyun (