It is disappointing and worrisome. President Moon Jae-in appointed Cho Kuk as justice minister, turning his back on overwhelming public opposition.
The prevailing view was that Cho must undergo investigation by the prosecution, rather than administer judicial affairs. But Moon smothered the people’s will.
The appointment demonstrates Moon’s self-righteousness and obstinacy. He threw away his governance philosophy -- “equal opportunities, fair procedures and righteous outcomes” -- like a scrap of paper.
Cho is suspected of being involved in a wide array of irregularities that opposition parties and news media have brought to light, and prosecution investigations are underway. Moon’s assertion that he is nonetheless the best-qualified person to reform the prosecution is far-fetched.
Moon said it would set a bad precedent not to appoint a nominee just because of unproven suspicions. But what truly sets a bad precedent is to appoint him despite snowballing suspicions and ongoing investigations.
The alleged irregularities and hypocritical behavior of Cho and his family are beyond imagination.
Cho once criticized foreign-language high schools for encouraging academic factionalism, but his daughter attended one. She was listed as the lead author of a medical science paper after working as a high school intern, and she mentioned the credit on her application when she sought admission to university. It worked. She later submitted a university presidential citation that her mother is accused of having forged to gain admission to medical school, and again met with success.
Cho once argued that scholarships must benefit poor students, but his daughter received scholarships for six straight semesters despite failing grades and being the child of a rich family. The professor who granted the scholarship later became the director of the Busan Medical Center.
His wife has been indicted on forgery charges. Investigations into shady investments by a private equity fund in which only members of his family had invested have just begun.
The new justice minister is suspected of exerting influence as a senior presidential secretary for civil affairs in connection with government supply contracts won by companies in which the fund had invested. Deals between the fund and its investors are dubious, too.
Other suspicions involve a private school foundation intentionally losing a suit to Cho’s younger brother when he sat on the board of the foundation. The president of Dongyang University revealed that Minister Cho had asked him to lie and say he had delegated the authority to issue presidential citations to Cho’s wife. Cho should face charges of attempting to destroy evidence.
Moon said Cho is qualified to reform the prosecution, but what authority does the new justice minister have to reform the prosecution when he is under suspicion of a flood of corrupt deeds, not to mention unethical actions?
When Moon appointed Yoon Seok-yeol as prosecutor-general, he instructed him to be strict in investigating irregularities by powerful incumbents of Cheong Wa Dae, the government and the ruling party.
The prosecution is carrying out those instructions faithfully, after a long history of favoring those in power.
Now that it is investigating suspicions surrounding Moon’s trusted aide, the most important part of the reform is essentially complete.
One cannot but ask what reforms Cho and Moon are trying to push. The appointment invites suspicion that they may be trying to subdue the prosecution under the specious pretext of reform with the intent of doing whatever they want, regardless of popular sentiment.
The ongoing investigations are an immediate concern.
In his inaugural address as justice minister, Cho vowed to set up systems to tighten the ministry’s control of the prosecution.
During his confirmation hearing, he said there was a need to cut down on the number of special investigations by the prosecution.
Alleged irregularities involving him and his family are currently being scrutinized by a special investigation unit within the prosecution.
The impartiality of prosecution investigations is all the more important after the appointment of Cho as justice minister.
The new minister must not attempt to influence prosecution investigations. Cheong Wa Dae and the ruling party must not threaten to do so.
Investigating an incumbent justice minister is an unprecedented, crucial challenge for the prosecution. It ought to find the truth about every suspicion, right to the end, and respond in accordance with the law.
For the prosecution and for the sake of the nation, that is the way to go.