Ex-justice minister gets 2-yr prison term for academic irregularities surrounding family

February 3, 2023

Former Justice Minister Cho Kuk was sentenced to two years in prison Friday for using his influence to receive academic favors, including university admissions, for his children.

The Seoul Central District Court also found Cho guilty of interfering with an inspection into a corruption case by using his power as a presidential aide.

The court, however, did not immediately lock up the former minister who served under the previous Moon Jae-in administration.

Cho was indicted in 2019 on a dozen charges, including fabricating various documents to help his two children get into universities and graduate schools, including a medical school.

The former minister was also charged with receiving bribes worth 6 million won (US$4,900) in the form of a scholarship for his daughter, who attended a medical school in the southeastern city of Busan.

He was indicted again on charges of using his power as a presidential aide to end an inspection into bribery allegations involving a former Busan vice mayor.

On Friday, the court found Cho guilty of most of the charges related to academic fraud and ordered he forfeit 6 million won.

“The nature of the defendant’s crime is bad as he repeatedly committed the crime for several years while serving as a university professor,” the court said in its ruling.

The court also said Cho is strongly blamed for damaging society’s justice in the school admissions system.

The court, however, acquitted Cho of several charges related to his family’s suspicious private equity investments.

Following the ruling, Cho thanked the court for acquitting him of those charges and said he will file for an appeal.

Prosecutors, who had sought a five-year prison term for Cho, are also expected to appeal the case.

In the same ruling, the court also gave a one-year prison term to Cho’s wife, Chung Kyung-sim, as an accomplice in education irregularities.

Chung has already been serving a four-year prison term for forging her daughter’s academic credentials for school admissions and forging documents for her son.

The ruling comes nearly three years after the scandal first surfaced, which served as the biggest setback for the Moon government.

Cho, a celebrity law professor at the top-notch Seoul National University, served as a senior presidential secretary for civil affairs from 2017 to 2019. He was appointed as a justice minister in September 2019 before stepping down about a month later amid the scandal.

Former Justice Minister Cho Kuk (C) talks to reporters at the Seoul Central District Court in southern Seoul on Feb. 3, 2023. (Yonhap)
Former Justice Minister Cho Kuk (C) talks to reporters at the Seoul Central District Court in southern Seoul on Feb. 3, 2023. (Yonhap)