Prosecutors poised to call in Cho Kuk for questioning

Posted on : 2019-10-04 17:16 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Justice minister’s wife, daughter, and son have already been called in for questioning
Justice Minister Cho Kuk leaves his home in Seoul’s Seocho District on his way to work on Oct. 2 (Yonhap News)
Justice Minister Cho Kuk leaves his home in Seoul’s Seocho District on his way to work on Oct. 2 (Yonhap News)

After calling in Justice Minister Cho Kuk’s daughter, son, and even wife (Dongyang University professor Chung Kyung-shim) for questioning on Oct. 3, South Korea’s prosecutors are also gearing up to question Cho himself. While the prosecutors are no doubt intimidated by the unprecedented prospect of questioning the sitting justice minister, they will nonetheless probably consider giving Cho a summons, depending on the outcome of his wife’s questioning.

The prosecutors have already questioned Cho’s 28-year-old daughter in connection with allegations about irregularities in her university admissions, including her being listed as the primary author of a medical research paper, on Sept. 16 and 22, and they called in Cho’s 23-year-old son on Sept. 24. Cho’s younger sibling and his wife’s brother have all been questioned as well.

The allegations against Cho that the prosecutors are pursuing concern a fraudulent lawsuit of Ungdong School and a false internship certificate issued for Cho’s daughter at the Seoul National University (SNU) Center for Public Interests and Human Rights Law. Between 1999 and 2009, Cho was on the board of the Ungdong School Foundation, which was operated by his family, and he is suspected of having been involved in a lawsuit over debt carried out under false pretenses. While Cho has denied the allegations, the prosecutors have focused on demonstrating his connection with the lawsuit and have turned up related documents on his computer.

Another issue that Cho will have to address is allegations that internship certificates issued to his son and daughter by the SNU Center for Public Interests and Human Rights Law while Cho was employed at the university were actually forged. The prosecutors have reportedly found internship certificates made out in the name of his daughter, the son of Dankook University professor Jang Yeong-pyo, and the son of someone who studied with Cho at university on his computer. In addition, the prosecutors are focusing on unearthing evidence of Cho’s awareness of or involvement in various alleged crimes, including his family’s investment in a private-equity fund and encouraging others to destroy evidence.

In press conferences, parliamentary hearings, and press interviews, Cho has denied any involvement in the allegations that have been raised about himself and his family. In a recent interview with the current affairs magazine Sisain, Cho said that the allegations surrounding investment in a private-equity firm were “a dispute between the prosecutors and my wife,” suggesting that he had nothing with that affair. When asked during an interpellation session at the National Assembly on Sept. 26 about the allegation that his daughter was issued a fake internship certificate, Cho said, “I neither asked for such a document to be issued nor made a forgery.”

Cho’s summon could occur just after parliamentary audit

The prosecutors are likely to take great care before issuing Cho a summons. If the prosecutors call in the sitting justice minister — the very person attempting to carry out prosecutorial reform — without clear evidence, they’re likely to face blowback for launching an investigation aimed at blocking that reform. Some think that the prosecutors won’t be able to extend the investigation to Cho, because almost no definite charges have been raised directly against him thus far.

By the same token, if the prosecutors do issue a summons to Cho, that could suggest that they’ve amassed considerable evidence of the allegations against him. One source at the prospectors evinced confidence by remarking that the investigation into Cho was “90% complete.” When Cho was asked during the interpellation session whether he would resign if he received a summons from the prosecutors, he said he would consider his options if he’s given notification of a summons.

If the prosecutors do decide to summon Cho, the timing is the next matter they’ll have to decide. Since the prosecutors have already questioned Cho’s immediate family, friends, and relatives, they could move forward quickly with questioning Cho. Since the parliamentary audit is currently underway, the questioning could also take place immediately after the audit.

By Choi Woo-ri, staff reporter

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