Justice Minister nominee Cho Kuk is in hot water over multiple corruption allegations involving his family. The allegations evoke not only a shameless two-facedness, but also suspicions of rule-bending and stark illegality.
Cho’s daughter was revealed to have been named as the lead author on an academic paper on pathology when she was a second-year student of a foreign-language high school in Seoul.
She participated in experiments by a medical professor of Dankook University in South Chungcheong Province as an intern for about two weeks in 2008. The professor was a parent of her classmate. She was listed as the lead author on the paper titled “ENOS Gene Polymorphisms in Perinatal Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy.”
Cho’s daughter mentioned the thesis in her cover letter when she applied for Korea University in 2010 and was admitted.
It is impossible for a high school student to conduct the experiments and lead the preparation of a thesis on such a professional subject. The professor reportedly helped her in good faith because she was going to apply for an overseas university. Then she entered a university in Korea.
In 2009 as a third-year student in high school, she was also listed as the third author of a thesis on the genes of green algae after working as an intern for a professor of Kongju National University in the province for about three weeks.
The professor and Cho’s wife are alumni of Seoul National University and were members of an astronomy club of the university.
Improperly inserting the name of a professor’s child in the list of co-authors of a thesis is an illegal means to enroll the child in a university through the evaluation of academic records. Cho is a law professor at Seoul National University. The case of his daughter goes beyond the ethical dimension, and is subject to investigation by prosecutors.
Cho once criticized special-purpose high schools, including foreign-language high schools, for focusing their curriculums on university entrance exams, but his daughter attended a foreign-language high school. Then she majored in natural sciences in university and entered a graduate school of medicine.
Cho’s daughter reportedly received scholarships as a student of a medical graduate school in Busan despite failing twice. She received scholarships over six successive semesters from 2016 through 2018.
The foundation that awards the scholarships was set up by a professor who was her academic adviser. The professor was appointed as chief of the Busan Medical Center this year. This raises suspicion that Cho, as chief presidential secretary for civil affairs, may have influenced the appointment to thank the professor for doing his daughter a favor.
The 2016 candlelight protests, which led eventually to the election of President Moon Jae-in, were fanned by revelations that Chung Yoo-ra, the daughter of Choi Soon-sil, received special treatment in entering Ewha Womans University and received credits despite her nonattendance of classes.
Chung caused public outrage when she posted on her Facebook, “If you think you are incompetent, resent your parents.” At the time, Cho denounced the post. Those involved in Chung’s admission received criminal punishment. The university canceled her admission.
Other allegations facing Cho also point to behavior that goes against common sense.
He and his family avoided inheriting his father’s debts through a rarely used legal procedure. Cho’s younger brother divorced his wife to avoid paying off his own debts. The ex-wife continued to have unusual real estate dealings with Cho’s family, and reportedly lived with her ex-husband and children until recently. Cho’s wife and two children made a suspicious investment of over 1 billion won ($830,000) in a very risky private equity fund.
Few would have imagined such a wide array of corruption allegations would entangle the close aide to Moon, who led fights against societal evils and advocated for justice and fairness.
Suspicions raised thus far seem to have gone beyond the stage where Cho can explain them away without investigation.
Many sneer at him, saying there may be no person previously nominated by Moon for a minister position who is more hypocritical than Cho. Public calls for his voluntary withdrawal are mounting.
It is unlikely that suspicions will subside quickly, even after the confirmation hearing. Lawmakers of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party have already accused Cho, his wife and his younger brother’s ex-wife of violating real estate transaction laws, and Cho’s younger brother and his ex-wife on charges of fraud in connection with their avoidance of debt.
The post of Justice Minister accompanies heavy responsibilities for maintaining the rule of law.
If Cho intends to obfuscate suspicions, he might as well withdraw his candidacy. And the prosecution must investigate the allegations.