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Presidential office, prosecution clash over probe into minister nominee’s family

September 5, 2019

South Korea’s presidential office and prosecution clashed Thursday over an investigation into the family of justice minister nominee Cho Kuk over a series of allegations of misdeeds.

The Supreme Prosecutors’ Office made a rare public protest calling on presidential officials to stop intervening in its investigation into Cho’s wife over suspicions that she may have fabricated a school award for her daughter.

The presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae immediately denied the claim, saying that it has never interfered with the probe and that it will closely watch Cho’s confirmation hearing slated for Friday.

Cho has faced a string of corruption allegations involving his family, including that his daughter received preferential treatment in entering elite colleges and that his family made a dubious investment in a private equity fund.

Ahead of his confirmation hearing, fresh suspicion has been arising that his wife may have fabricated a certificate to prove her daughter had done voluntary work at an English education center of a university. She became the chief of the center after its issuance.

In an interview on Thursday, an anonymous Cheong Wa Dae official said that a professor who recommended the certificate has been found and that relevant allegations will be clarified in the upcoming hearing.

“Today, a high-ranking official of Cheong Wa Dae suggested in a media interview that it is not a fabrication with regard to the certificate forgery allegation involving the minister nominee’s wife. This can be seen as intervention in the investigation, and it is very inappropriate,” the prosecution said in a text message to reporters, citing one of its own officials.

Though the prosecution did not specify who made the remark, it is widely believed that Prosecutor-General Yoon Seok-youl was behind it.

Cheong Wa Dae immediately rebutted the prosecution’s claim, saying that it has never intervened in their investigation, nor has it mentioned anything about it. The presidential office added in a message to reporters that it will watch the confirmation hearing.

It is rare for the presidential office and the prosecution to clash over an investigative issue.

The prosecution has been intensifying its probe into the allegations over Cho by carrying out simultaneous raids on 20 locations last week.

The move, however, has raised the eyebrows of some government officials and ruling party lawmakers as they are worrying that it could affect the outcome of the upcoming confirmation hearing.

In a parliamentary meeting on Thursday, Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said that it is “inappropriate” for the prosecution to conduct such large-scale raids that affects “the procedures for the hearing, authority of verification and obligation of the National Assembly.”

President Moon Jae-in nominated Cho as justice minister last month, a move reflecting his commitment to reforming the prosecution to guarantee its political neutrality and grant more investigative power and authority to police.

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