Prosecutors raided Justice Minister Cho Kuk’s home Monday in the latest move in a monthlong probe into a corruption scandal involving Cho’s family.
This makes Cho the first incumbent justice minister -- a post which oversees the prosecution’s personnel and administration -- to have his home raided by prosecutors.
The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office sent investigators to Cho’s home in Bangbae-dong, southern Seoul, at around 9 a.m. to secure documents, hard drives and other potential sources of evidence related to allegations surrounding rigging of college and medical school application materials.
Seized materials could also uncover evidence of shady investments in a private equity fund while Cho served at Cheong Wa Dae as senior secretary to the president for civil affairs.
The raid follows a recent disclosure of an ongoing digital forensics examination of computer hard disk drives that belong to the minister’s family.
Justice Minister Cho Kuk photographed Monday morning (Yonhap)
The hard disk drives were submitted by the Cho family’s asset manager, surnamed Kim, who visited their home Aug. 29 upon request to replace the storage devices on the computers. Kim, a private banker at Korea Investment & Securities Co., had looked after the family’s investments for about five years.
Kim reportedly told prosecutors Chung Kyung-shim -- Cho’s wife -- had asked him to “keep the extracted hard disk drives until things quiet down,” and that the justice minister had thanked him for “helping (his) wife out.” Prosecutors have questioned Kim about possible charges of concealment and destruction of evidence.
On the hard drives, prosecutors found two internship certificates from Seoul National University’s Public Interests and Human Rights Law Center dated 2009. The minister’s daughter Cho Min and a son of Dankook University’s School of Medicine professor Chang Young-pyo were the certificates’ recipients.
Chang is responsible for listing Cho Min, who was a high school student at the time, as lead author in a medical paper, after she interned at the medical school lab for two weeks in 2007. The paper was retracted Sept. 5 due to the questionable way that authorship was granted to the minister’s daughter.
Prior to the parliamentary confirmation hearing, the SNU Center said in a written response to the National Assembly that no high school student had interned between 2007 and 2016. Cho Kuk was still on the faculty as a law professor there at the time the certificates were issued.
As a next step in probe, prosecutors said they would consider seeking an arrest warrant for Cho’s wife, Chung, a professor at Dongyang University, who has been dodging subpoenas citing “health reasons.” Chung was indicted Sept. 6 on charges of having forged a document to influence her daughter’s admission to medical school. The daughter was summoned by prosecutors Sept. 16 as part of a probe into the alleged forgery.
Another allegation concerning the minister is a possible violation of public service ethics.
While Cho was serving as a presidential secretary, his wife, two children and in-laws invested some 1.4 billion won ($1.17 million) in a fund called Blue Core Value-Up 1, which was operated by Co-Link Private Equity, owned by the minister’s cousin once removed Cho Beom-dong.
Following the Cho family’s investment, a Co-Link-funded company, Wealth C&T, saw a surge in sales, having won contracts from provincial governments and state institutions.
The minister’s relative was arrested Sept. 14 on embezzlement charges and was questioned about what the minister and his wife knew about the fund’s investment and operations.
On his way to work Monday morning, Cho denied claims that the internship certificates were fraudulent and promised that his wife would cooperate diligently with the probe.
By Kim Arin (firstname.lastname@example.org