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[Newsmaker] Corruption allegations have Cho Kuk in a corner

Justice Minister nominee Cho Kuk is in a corner over mounting corruption allegations involving his family ahead of his confirmation hearing, which hasn’t even been scheduled yet.


The main opposition Liberty Korea Party filed a complaint against the former senior presidential secretary and his family on Monday over what the party called questionable investments in a private equity fund.

The latest of the allegations involves Cho’s 28-year-old daughter, who received scholarships to attend medical school despite flunking twice.

She received a total of 12 million won ($9,900) in scholarships over six semesters from 2016 through 2018, according to the Pusan National University’s Graduate School of Medicine.

The school has explained that the foundation that awards the scholarship hand-picked Cho’s daughter as the recipient from 2016. The foundation was set up by a professor who was her academic adviser. The professor took over as chief of the Busan Medical Center this year.

Cho had written on Facebook in 2012 that scholarships should be awarded based on financial need. He had told his children not to think about getting scholarships because they were relatively well off, he wrote, and that the money should go to friends in need.

Cho’s father made money through a construction business and even acquired a private school foundation, but died in 2013 leaving behind debts worth 4.9 billion won. Cho, a professor of law at Seoul National University, has assets worth 5.6 billion won. Cho and his family went through a legal procedure to avoid inheriting his father’s debts.

Rep. Joo Kwang-deok of the Liberty Korea Party filed a complaint with the prosecution against Cho’s brother, his ex-wife and her business partner on charges of fraud over complicated lawsuits between the construction company and the private school foundation that Cho’s father owned. Cho’s younger brother, who headed the construction firm, Goryeo City Development, ended up receiving bonds worth over 10 billion won from Ungdong School.

The party also raised suspicions that Cho’s brother divorced his wife to keep his wealth and avoid paying off his own debts. The ex-wife continued to have real estate dealings with Cho’s family, and reportedly lived with her ex-husband and children until recently.

Cho’s family also made a mysterious investment of over 1 billion won in a private equity fund.

The fund, which was mostly financed by Cho’s wife and two children, invested in a business that bids for government contracts to install streetlights. After Cho became the major shareholder, the company’s sales more than doubled. Cho claims he was not aware of what businesses the fund had invested in, but critics say he may have used the fund to amass wealth and transfer it to his children without paying inheritance taxes.

Cho said Monday that the allegations against him were “far different from the substantial truth,” and that he will explain everything anytime if the National Assembly holds a confirmation hearing.

By Kim So-hyun (