NATIONAL

Fresh allegations tie ex-Justice Minister Cho to power abuse

By Choi Si-young
  • Published : Nov 27, 2019 - 18:04
  • Updated : Dec 3, 2019 - 09:14

Embattled former Justice Minister Cho Kuk is facing fresh allegations of power abuse.

Cho Kuk (Yonhap)

In addition to the corruption scandal involving his family, Cho is suspected of wrongly suspending the internal inspection of a senior public official in 2017 and pushing for a police investigation to influence the Ulsan mayoral election in 2018.

At the time, Cho was senior presidential secretary responsible for oversight of senior government officials.

On Wednesday, Yoo Jae-soo, former Busan vice mayor for economic affairs, attended the arrest warrant review at the Seoul Eastern District Court. He is accused of accepting bribes while serving as a senior official at the Financial Services Commission and at Busan Metropolitan City.

The presidential office had looked into Yoo’s alleged misconduct from October to December 2017 but did not press charges against Yoo, who resigned shortly after the inspection and became the Busan vice mayor in June 2018.

The Seoul Eastern District Prosecutors’ Office has reportedly secured testimonies from Yoo’s superiors that Cho “halted the internal investigation of Yoo” at the time. It is currently scheduling to summon Cho to establish if his actions constitute power abuse.

In February this year, prosecutors launched the investigation into Yoo after a former investigator on the inspection team made public that his superior had suspended the internal probe into Yoo.

Cho also faces suspicion that his office offered tips to the local police to influence the local elections in 2018.

In 2018, the Ulsan Metropolitan Police Agency raided the offices of associates of then-sitting Ulsan Mayor Kim Gi-hyeon after it received intelligence from Cho’s office that they had accepted bribes from local businessmen.

Following news of the investigation, Kim lost the election to Song Cheol-ho, a close friend of President Moon Jae-in. The prosecutors later cleared Kim's associates of all charges after concluding that they were unfounded.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office is looking into whether then-commissioner of Ulsan Metropolitan Police Agency Hwang Un-hah abused his power. Hwang, now Daejeon Metropolitan Police Agency commissioner, has submitted his resignation letter, but the police are withholding the resignation while the investigation is underway.

Hwang is reportedly preparing for next year’s general election on the ruling Democratic Party’s ticket.

The prosecutors are also reviewing whether Cho abused his power in tipping off the police at the time. The presidential order dictates his office exercise oversight of only senior ranking government officials, presidential appointees and his close relatives, excluding elected politicians.

Cho could face election rule violations in addition to power abuse accusations.

The spokesperson for Cheong Wa Dae expressed regret over the ongoing investigations. “We notify the relevant government bodies of intelligence if it relates to corruption suspicions. We express regret that the media portray this natural course of action as a scheme we orchestrated,” the spokesperson said.

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)