Universities, facilities raided over corruption scandals involving minister nominee’s family

August 27, 2019

The prosecution on Tuesday carried out simultaneous raids on universities, a medical center and other facilities involved in snowballing corruption allegations involving Justice Minister nominee Cho Kuk and his family.

Investigators were sent to the Busan Medical Center, five universities, including Seoul National University (SNU) and Korea University, for prosecutors’ probe into suspicions that Cho’s 28-year-old daughter received undue preferential treatment in her college admissions and scholarship receipt.

The prosecution also raided the offices of a private equity fund (PEF), in which his family has made dubious hefty investments and a private school foundation that his mother runs.

Explaining the reason for the probe, the prosecution described the relevant scandals as a “big public issue that draws the interest of the people.”

The raid is aimed at securing evidence to uncover the truth in a timely manner, it added.

Reporters stand in front of the admission office of Korea University in Seoul on Aug. 27, 2019, as the prosecution raided the university over snowballing corruption allegations involving Justice Minister nominee Cho Kuk and his family. (Yonhap)

The raid came as public uproar mounted over his qualifications amid a series of scandals ranging from illicit college admission allegations about Cho’s daughter and other corruption allegations.

In particular, the academics-related allegations involving his 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.

The incumbent chief of the Busan Medical Center in the southern port city of the same name provided a scholarship worth 12 million won (US$9,887) to Cho’s daughter when he served as the head of Pusan National University (PNU) Yangsan Hospital.

She received the scholarship six times in 2016-2018 though she flunked twice when she attended PNU medical school.

The SNU’s graduate school of environmental studies was also subject to the raid as she took scholarships worth 8 million won for one year before she moved to PNU medical school.

Cho, former senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, also faces suspicions that his family had promised to invest 7.4 billion won in the PEF, an amount that is far larger than its total funds. The move spawns speculation that it may have been done to evade the gift tax. His relative also was involved in the operation of the fund.

The private school foundation that his mother runs is also under fire over suspicions that it may be used as a means to augment assets.

“I hope that the prosecutors’ investigation can swiftly clarify facts (related to the allegations),” Cho told reporters.

“But a main road to reforming the prosecution and the justice ministry-related affairs should not be undermined with untrue speculations,” he added.

President Moon Jae-in named Cho as the new justice minister in a Cabinet shakeup on Aug. 9, a move seen as reflecting his commitment to reforming the prosecution.

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

He apologized to the public over the allegations involving his daughter for a second straight day Monday, but public sentiment remains chilly.

The ruling Democratic Party (DP) expressed regret that the raid was carried out ahead of a confirmation hearing.

“We hope the raid does not carry political intents that seek to impede the overhaul of the prosecution,” Rep. Hong Ihk-pyo, chief DP spokesman, said.

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) called for Cho to withdraw from the post.

Separately, the LKP said it will push for a bill to appoint a special counsel to investigate the relevant scandal.

“Though 11 complaints were filed with the prosecution over his scandal, anticipating the prosecution’s fair probe appears to be a vain hope. So the LKP plans to prepare for a special counsel bill over his scandal,” LKP floor leader Na Kyung-won said at a meeting with party members.

The DP accepted a deal reached by lawmakers of the parliamentary legislation committee to hold a two-day confirmation hearing for Cho next Monday and Tuesday.