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[Newsmaker] Pressure mounts on Choo over son's military service

Minister of Justice Choo Mi-ae attends a National Assembly session on Tuesday. Yonhap
Minister of Justice Choo Mi-ae attends a National Assembly session on Tuesday. Yonhap

The controversy over allegations against Minister of Justice Choo Mi-ae’s son continues to grow, with some comparing the situation to last year’s scandal surrounding former Justice Minister Cho Kuk.

Choo, a former ruling Democratic Party lawmaker who served five terms in the National Assembly, is accused of using her influence to help her son obtain special favors during his military service.

It has been claimed that Choo’s influence as a politician enabled Seo to go on extended leave while he was serving as a member of the Korean Augmentation to the United States Army in 2016 and 2017.

Seo joined KATUSA in November 2016 and underwent knee surgery in June 2017. He went on sick leave June 5-14 and again June 15-24, after which he used his regular leave from June 24-27.

Some people say that Seo had no right to take leave for three consecutive weeks, and that an extension was granted without following proper procedures. In addition, it has been claimed that one of Choo’s former aides contacted Seo’s base to facilitate the extended leave.

Choo has rebutted all the allegations, repeatedly denying that she instructed her aide to contact the base or that there were any irregularities in her son’s military service.

The former commander of the Eighth United States Army Republic of Korea Army Support Group has also claimed that he was asked to intervene in the process of selecting the base where Seo would be posted for his service.

In a telephone conversation that was recorded and disclosed to the public by Rep. Shin Won-sik of the main opposition People Power Party, the retired officer -- identified by the surname Lee -- claims that Seo’s father and grandmother went to the US 2nd Infantry Division base in Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi Province, to request his help.

In the recording, Lee claims he sat down with Choo’s husband and her mother-in-law and told them not to request favors.

Lee also hinted that Choo or her associates may have attempted to intervene in the process of selecting soldiers who would serve as interpreters at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. According to Lee, an official with the defense minister’s policy aide’s office inquired about the selection process but he changed the selection process so as to rule out interference.

Seo’s lawyer disputed the claims, saying human intervention is impossible in the process of selecting a KATUSA soldier’s base and that it would have been impossible for Seo’s family to meet privately with Lee.

In a statement released to the media, the lawyer stressed that a soldier’s base is selected using a computer program, and that more than 100 people were present at the event where Lee claims to have met Seo’s family.

By Choi He-suk (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)
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