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Cho Kuk’s wife sentenced to 4 years in prison for forgery and illegal investment

Chung Kyung-sim, the wife of former Justice Minister Cho Kuk, arrives at the Seoul Central District Court on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Chung Kyung-sim, the wife of former Justice Minister Cho Kuk, arrives at the Seoul Central District Court on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Chung Kyung-sim, the wife of former Justice Minister Cho Kuk, was sentenced to four years in prison for forging documents to help her daughter gain admission at a medical school and for making illegal investments in a private equity fund.

The Seoul Central District Court on Wednesday immediately put Chung under detention and slapped her with a fine of 500 million won ($451,000), alongside the forfeiture of 140 million won.

The 58-year-old Dongyang University professor was indicted in November last year on 15 charges, including falsifying official documents, obstruction of business, insider trading, embezzlement and withholding evidence.

The court said it has been “proven enough” that Chung worked with her husband in falsifying awards and other documents like internship certificates by using the seal of the university president in 2012 to support her daughter’s medical school application, from 2013 to 2014.

The 29-year-old daughter is now a medical student at Pusan National University, after entering the university in 2015. The court said the daughter could have failed to earn admission at PNU without the forged certificates and awards.

The court also found Chung partially guilty of some charges on shady dealings in connection with a private equity fund, saying she used undisclosed information and made investments using fake names to earn 220 million won.

But the court said Chung cannot be punished for allegedly embezzling 150 million won by signing a fraudulent consulting contract with the fund management firm, as the charge could not be proven beyond reasonable doubt.

The court also did not find Chung guilty on the charge of instructing her asset manager to conceal her office computer and delete documents related to the private equity fund, as the allegation could not be completely proven.

Prosecutors had asked the court at the final session before the verdict last month to penalize Chung with seven years imprisonment, a fine of 500 million won and an additional forfeiture of 164.61 million won.

They said Chung’s alleged actions were a clear abuse of her power -- not much different from those of former President Park Geun-hye.

Park was impeached and jailed for a host of offenses, which essentially amounted to corruption and misusing her authority as president to further her private interests.

Chung has denied all the charges against her since accusations first emerged during the parliamentary confirmation process for her husband as justice minister in September last year. Cho stepped down only 35 days after taking office, amid the prosecutorial investigation into his wife.

Chung‘s defense immediately announced after the ruling that it would challenge the decision, as the court seemed to have been prejudiced with accusations made before the trial.

“We cannot agree with the overall ruling, but the court made comments that we cannot dare to agree upon in regards to charges on admissions, the logic behind sentencing and the reason for immediate detention order,” Chung’s lawyer Kim Chil-jun told reporters, after what he labeled a “frustrating” outcome.

“We will have to go over these at a higher court.”

It was not immediately known whether the prosecution would challenge the district court’s ruling, but Chung‘s trial outcome is expected to negatively influence trial proceedings ahead for her husband.

Cho was indicted last year shortly after resigning as justice minister on 12 charges, including suspicious investments at the same private equity fund and bribery for his daughter’s academic credentials and scholarship.

It was also warned that legal action could follow for the daughter, as the court said in its ruling that she obstructed the admissions process by submitting falsified internship records and official documents.

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)
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