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[New focus] Probe into Cho fans speculations, renews wrangling over confirmation hearing

The investigation into Justice Minister nominee Cho Kuk is expanding, along with controversy and partisan strife surrounding related developments.

On Tuesday, the prosecution raided locations linked to allegations involving Cho and his family, launching the first-ever criminal investigation into a ministerial nominee. 

Justice minister nominee Cho Kuk enters the office for preparing for the parliamentary confirmation hearing in central Seoul on Wednesday. Yonhap
Justice minister nominee Cho Kuk enters the office for preparing for the parliamentary confirmation hearing in central Seoul on Wednesday. Yonhap

Unlike other investigations into high-profile allegations, the probe got off to a swift start. The prosecution secured search warrants the previous day and conducted simultaneous raids on 20 locations, including five universities, with Korea University and Pusan National University’s Graduate School of Medicine among them.

A number of Cho’s family members, including his wife and brother, have also been barred from leaving the country.

The unprecedented nature of the investigation is seen as reflecting Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl’s determination to conduct affairs of the prosecution independently of political developments.

According to reports, Yoon is closely watching the investigation and has ordered the case to be reassigned to the special crimes unit of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office. The unit handles major corruption cases.

Cho and his family face allegations ranging from tax law violations to shady investments. In particular, allegations surrounding Cho’s daughter have sparked public outrage.

It has been alleged that Cho’s daughter was given unfair advantages, including being named one of the authors on a medical research paper while she was a high school student, and unfairly receiving scholarships at Pusan National University’s Graduate School of Medicine.

It has also been alleged that head of the Busan Medical Center Roh Hwan-jung might have used his connections to Cho in the appointment of the president’s doctor. According to reports, the prosecution has secured a document in which Roh states that he played a critical role in the president’s doctor being appointed.

Roh is believed to have been a professor of Cho’s daughter and played a role in her receiving scholarships.

As for Cho, he has made it clear that he will not step down, saying that he and his family will cooperate with the investigation.

“My family will comply with the prosecution’s investigation. I hope that (the truth) will be revealed through the criminal investigation process. I will calmly engage in the preparations for the confirmation hearing,” Cho said Wednesday. His parliamentary confirmation hearing is slated to be held for two days, starting Monday.

Meanwhile, the investigation has riled up the political arena, this time with the ruling Democratic Party aiming barbs at the prosecution.

“An unprecedented development in which the media is given access while no communication with the concerned organizations has taken place. This is an action that disturbs the country further,” Democratic Party Chairman Rep. Lee Hae-chan said, saying the party had no prior knowledge of Tuesday’s raids, while some media organizations were present at the raid locations.

Rep. Sul Hoon went a step further by accusing the prosecution of violating the Criminal Act, citing media reports with information provided by the prosecution.

The party’s Floor Leader Rep. Lee In-young also voiced concerns, saying he hopes the investigation is not an expression of “opposition against prosecutorial reform.”

Lee In-young’s comments on the investigation -- which is reportedly being closely directed by Yoon -- are in stark contrast to the ruling party’s stance on Yoon just a month ago.

The Democratic Party had hailed Yoon as “the right man for prosecutorial reform” ahead of his appointment, which was fiercely resisted by the opposition.

While expressing hopes for an unbiased investigation, the main opposition Liberty Korea Party has voiced concerns that the prosecution’s probe might hamper the parliamentary hearing.

The party is considering boycotting the confirmation hearing and has renewed calls for President Moon Jae-in to withdraw Cho’s nomination.

By Choi He-suk (