Confirmation hearing for justice minister nominee set for next week

August 26, 2019

A parliamentary panel decided Monday to hold a confirmation hearing next week for justice minister nominee Cho Kuk, who faces snowballing corruption allegations involving his family.

Political parties agreed to hold the two-day hearing on Sept. 2-3, according to lawmakers sitting on the legislation and judiciary committee.

The last-minute deal was reached after the ruling party threatened to hold a “people’s hearing” Tuesday where Cho could clarify allegations to the public.

Public uproar mounted over his qualifications amid a series of scandals ranging from illicit college admission allegations about Cho’s daughter and his family’s dubious investment in a private equity fund (PEF) and other corruption allegations.

In particular, the academics-related allegations involving his 28-year-old daughter have hit a public nerve in a country where college admission is a sensitive issue.

The daughter was listed as a primary writer for a pathology paper published in a renowned medical journal when she took part in a two-week internship at a medical science institute in 2008 as a high school student. Critics speculate that the paper may have helped her enroll in Korea University in 2010.

Justice minister nominee Cho Kuk answers questions from reporters on Aug. 26, 2019, over a series of corruption allegations involving his family. (Yonhap)

Earlier in the day, Cho unveiled his plans to reform state prosecutors while apologizing for corruption allegations involving his daughter for a second straight day.

Rejecting demands by opposition parties to voluntarily withdraw from the nomination, Cho expressed his willingness to stand at a confirmation hearing to address the allegations.

“If I am given a chance to stand at a (parliamentary) confirmation hearing, I would like to frankly explain my weakness and limitation, and I am ready to be reprimanded,” Cho told reporters.

“But if (political parties) fail to reach a deal over a hearing, I want to clarify the allegations directly (to the public) in many ways,” he added.

Apologizing for the allegations related to his daughter, Cho said, “It is painful, but I will not make an excuse or seek for public understanding.”

Since the nomination, public anger at his “hypocritical” behavior has increased as Cho, a reform-minded law professor, has preached for a fair and just society and called for the need to eradicate social ills committed by the privileged.

The student council of Seoul National University formally demanded Cho withdraw from the nomination.

This marked the first time that his alma mater’s student council has issued a statement with regard to the growing controversy since he was nominated for the post.

Cho said Friday he will make a social donation with the PEF and a private school foundation, both of which are implicated in corruption allegations involving his family. But public sentiment remains chilly toward him.

President Moon Jae-in named Cho, former senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, as his new justice minister in a Cabinet shake-up on Aug. 9, a move seen as reflecting his firm commitment to reform state prosecutors.

“The overhaul of the prosecution is an aspiration of our all citizens,” Cho said while releasing a 10-page press release outlining the prosecution reform.

Apparently hit by the series of corruption scandals facing Cho, Moon’s approval rating fell to 46.2 percent last week, down 3.2 percentage points from a week earlier, a Realmeter poll showed Monday.

Negative assessments of his job performance surpassed 50 percent for the first time since Moon took office in May 2017.