Justice Minister nominee Cho Kuk addressed suspicions about him and his family on Monday, talking to the press for nearly 11 hours. To listen to him, he has done nothing wrong. He is clean not only legally, but morally too. But is he?
Regarding the fact that his daughter was listed as the lead author of a medical thesis when she was a high school student, Cho claimed he does not know how a researcher becomes a lead author in natural sciences.
But in September 2012, he tweeted: “In case of a thesis in natural sciences and engineering, it is a rule to list all researchers, including the lead author, and second and third authors who advised and assisted.
“My daughter is pretty good at English,” Cho said in the press briefing. “The professor responsible for the thesis seemed to have evaluated her for contributing to the writing of research and experiment results in English.”
But the Korea Medical Association dismissed the notion that a high school student could have contributed significantly to a thesis in the field. “Our professional judgment is that the possibility of Cho’s daughter contributing to the thesis enough to become the lead author as a high school student is absolutely zero,” the association said.
When asked about allegations that Cho’s younger brother had filed fraudulent lawsuits against Ungdong School, where Cho serves on the board of directors, the nominee said, “No one in my family took away assets from the school.”
But Cho’s younger brother sued the school in 2017 for the right to collect receivables for a construction project his company had completed for the school, and the school lost the suit intentionally. Cho’s younger brother took out a private loan, but defaulted on it. Now the school’s assets are being provisionally seized by a private money lender. Cho’s family effectively siphoned off the school’s assets.
When asked about a private equity fund created by six members of Cho’s family, he said he knew nothing about a private equity fund and had just learned of it recently. But his wife and children invested 1.5 billion won ($1.24 million) in the fund and even pledged to invest more. Though a considerable amount of money was invested and committed, he claimed to know nothing about it.
Despite Cho’s lengthy attempts to explain himself, he has not been cleared of suspicion. On the contrary, new suspicions keep popping up.
For example, his daughter was found to have received a presidential citation from Dongyang University, where his wife works as a professor. She included the award in a cover letter she submitted to Pusan National University’s Graduate School of Medicine when she applied for admission. The prosecution suspects Cho’s wife may have intervened to help their daughter win the award.
Co-Link Private Equity, the company that runs the private equity fund titled Blue Core Value-Up 1, commonly known as “Cho Kuk Fund,” reportedly hired a person connected to the ruling party as its adviser. The 73-year-old adviser is said to have lobbied politicians and government officials in connection with Seoul’s subway Wi-Fi upgrade project.
According to news reports, a consortium including Wells C&T, a streetlamp switch maker taken over by “Cho Kuk Fund,” won a bid for the 150 billion won Wi-Fi project. In July last year, a subsidiary of the consortium was also found to have outbid telecom giant KT for a 45.5 billion won project to install Wi-Fi in city buses across the country. But later, their rights to the two projects were canceled because they lacked the technology. Former aides to ruling party lawmakers are among the consortium’s shareholders.
Four key officials connected to the fund, including Cho’s cousin once removed, apparently left the country about two weeks ago. The prosecution says they destroyed evidence.
Ethical issues may be dealt with politically, but whether Cho broke the law is a separate matter that must be investigated, regardless.
Recently, the ruling camp criticized the prosecution for investigating allegations about Cho and his family. Such criticism is inappropriate and is serious cause for concern.
The public’s indignation at suspected acts of corruption by the justice minister nominee have not been allayed. After Cho’s self-justification at the press briefing, thorough investigations by the prosecution are all the more important.