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Ex-justice minister's wife arrested, prosecution emboldened amid reform pressure

The wife of former Justice Minister Cho Kuk was arrested Thursday in a court decision that is expected to add traction to the prosecution's probe into charges over her daughter's college admission and a financial investment.

It will likely give additional ammunition to state prosecutors apparently zeroing in on Cho, a close aide to President Moon Jae-in and an architect of far-reaching prosecution reform plans.

Following a hourslong hearing a day earlier, a Seoul court approved an arrest warrant for Chung Kyung-sim, a professor, saying that the charges are justified and there is the possibility of her attempting to destroy evidence.

For about two months, the prosecution has been looking into Cho's family over allegations regarding the forgery of a school award, a dubious investment in a private equity fund and academic favors.

Chung Kyung-sim (Yonhap)
Chung Kyung-sim (Yonhap)

The court's decision is expected to accelerate the prosecution's probe into Cho's family, which has continued despite criticism that the extent of the investigation is excessive.

There is a high possibility that the prosecution will call in Cho, a former top presidential secretary for civil affairs, for a probe into suspicions that he may be aware of charges applied to Chung or might have been involved.

The arrest warrant for Chung was sought over 11 charges that include obstruction of business, embezzlement and involvement in the destruction of evidence.

The 57-year-old is alleged to have been involved in fabricating a college presidential citation in relation to her daughter's admission to medical school.

She also faces allegations of embezzlement and capital market law violation for a 1 billion-won ($851,281) PEF investment by herself and her two children.

Chung has denied all allegations.

Chung's health problems did not appear to affect the court's decision.

Her legal representatives said she was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor and a cerebral blood blockage. But the court apparently judged that she can endure the probe while under detention.

The latest developments come a week after Cho abruptly resigned amid controversy about whether he was suitable for the Cabinet post.

Cho, an iconic figure in South Korea's liberal bloc, was appointed on Sept. 9 despite objections from opposition parties.

After his appointment, protesters staged street rallies for and against his appointment and prosecution reform measures.

Supporters of Cho called for thorough reform of the elite investigative agency and branded its probe into his family as politically charged.

Cheong Wa Dae was guarded about her arrest.

"We have no comment (to make in public) about it," a Cheong Wa Dae official said.

Political parties voiced mixed responses to the court's decision.

The ruling Democratic Party said it respects the decision but expressed hope the truth could be uncovered in the trial proceedings.

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party said the arrest affirmed that justice prevails. The conservative party called for the prosecution to investigate Cho. (Yonhap)