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Prosecution raids key locations in probe into embattled Cho Kuk

The prosecution on Tuesday raided universities, a medical center and other facilities as part of an investigation into a series of allegations involving Justice Minister nominee Cho Kuk and his family, less than a week before the parliamentary confirmation hearing on Cho is to be held.

The Seoul Central Prosecutors’ Office conducted search and seizure operations simultaneously at some 20 locations, including five universities -- including Korea University and Pusan National University’s Graduate School of Medicine -- to collect evidence linked to allegations ranging from university admissions irregularities involving Cho’s daughter to his family’s dubious investment in a private equity firm.

Cho’s 28-year-old daughter is suspected of having received preferential treatment in the process of being listed as a primary author of an academic paper, being admitted at Korea University and receiving scholarships.

The prosecution also raided the offices of the private equity fund, the residence of Cho’s brother-in-law, who reportedly led the investment in the fund, as well as a private school foundation that Cho’s mother runs.

Prosecutors carried out search and seizure operations without informing the Justice Ministry in advance, a rare move that triggered speculations that the move was intended to prevent controversy over political impartiality of the prosecution or that it was an act of rebellion against Cho’s plans for reform of the prosecution.

The raids were conducted to secure related evidence because it was a “public matter” of great interest, an official from the prosecution said.

So far, some 11 complaints have been filed against Cho in connection with the various allegations.

The raids drew mixed reactions from the political arena.

While the ruling Democratic Party of Korea expressed regret over the raids ahead of the confirmation hearing, the main opposition Liberty Korea Party called for a special counsel to investigate the allegations.

“We hope that the raid is not politically intended to disturb the prosecution reform,” Democratic Party chief spokesperson Hong Ihk-pyo said in a statement.

The raids came amid growing pressure from the opposition bloc for Cho to step down over the allegations.

“Cho should immediately resign and President Moon Jae-in should immediately withdraw Cho’s nomination. That’s what the people want,” said Liberty Korea Party Floor Leader Na Kyung-won. “The important thing is that a nominee, who is being investigated in a verification stage even before the confirmation hearing begins, cannot serve as a justice minister.”

The party asked Tuesday that the Financial Services Commission open an investigation into the private equity firm implicated in the allegations.

The National Assembly confirmation hearing on Cho, a former presidential secretary for civil affairs, is set to be held Monday and Tuesday. 

The Liberty Korea Party has asked some 80 witnesses, including Cho’s family members, to appear at the upcoming confirmation hearing, a move which the Democratic Party has strongly opposed.

Cho on Tuesday dismissed speculations that he may step down in the wake of the prosecution’s raids.

“I hope that all the allegations can be clarified through an investigation,” he said. “I am not going to argue about the prosecution’s judgement (on the raids.)

Criticism against Cho mainly centers on his daughter, who was listed as a primary author of a pathology paper published in a renowned medical journal after a two-week internship at a medical science institute under Dankook University in 2008. She was a high school student at the time.

Cho’s daughter also received scholarships for six consecutive terms from 2016 to 2018 from Pusan National University Graduate School of Medicine despite having failed twice, which critics say was special treatment.

Cho apologized over the allegations Sunday and Monday. However, fresh allegations continued to surface involving his family.

Rep. Kim Jin-tae of the Liberty Korea Party alleged Tuesday that Cho’s son had been an assailant in a case of school violence, which Cho has flatly denied.