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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Aug. 21)

Politics 07:00 August 21, 2019

Controversy over Cho Kuk
Parties should hold confirmation hearing quickly

President Moon Jae-in's nominee for justice minister, Cho Kuk, is in the hot seat over fraud and corruption allegations levelled against his relatives.

The conservative parties, led by the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP), are stepping up their political attacks, demanding Moon withdraw Cho's nomination immediately. There has been extensive media coverage of suspicions surrounding Cho's family ― and his possible involvement in the alleged wrongdoings. The stories about his relatives are making headlines every day, and rival parties are yet again being thrown deeper into a vortex of mudslinging.

This turmoil was largely expected when Moon nominated Cho, a former senior presidential secretary for civil affairs who has spearheaded the much-disputed judicial reform, for justice minister in a Cabinet shakeup, Aug. 9. Conservative parties have largely branded Cho as a radical reformist with ideological bias who is possibly "leading a plot to extend liberal rule and suppress political opponents." They mostly understand the ongoing judicial reform and his nomination in this context.

So it was not strange that Cho became an instant target of political offensives. In fact, Cho had been rumored to be handpicked for the next justice minister long before the Cabinet reshuffle. Looking at a series of allegations raised by conservative lawmakers day after day, they seem to have long prepared for this battle. In a way, this is a do-or-die fight for them given that Cho, a law professor, has been a symbolic figure in this ideologically polarized Korean society since joining Cheong Wa Dae in May 2017.

Cho's case basically represents a chaotic situation being repeated in Korean politics, possibly in any democratic society in the world that has fair elections to choose its leader. The No. 1 rule for opposition parties there is to weaken power of the national leader, and it is often the case that their close aides and confidants become easy political targets.

In Cho's case, a lot of questions have been raised about his family. Cho's 28-year-old daughter, attending a medical graduate school in Busan, is suspected of receiving scholarships totaling 12 million won ($9,900) for three years from a private foundation despite her low academic achievements. The foundation is run by a professor who was the daughter's academic adviser in graduate school and early this year became the director of Busan Medical Center.

Cho's wife is also suspected of engaging in a fraudulent property deal with the ex-wife of Cho's brother to avoid paying inheritance tax. Suspicions are swirling over a questionable investment by the Cho family in a private equity fund, which is possibly operated by a relative, and a family-owned foundation that runs a middle school in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province. Cho himself was a director of the school foundation from 1999 to 2009.

Conservative parties have largely attacked Cho's family, but failed to come up with concrete evidence showing Cho's direct involvement in corruption or fraud or his ethical lapses. Cho has avoided responding to the allegations, saying he will explain all in a confirmation hearing at the National Assembly.

However, the date of the confirmation hearing for Cho has not been fixed yet mainly because the LKP has delayed the proceedings. Instead, LKP Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn vowed to boycott all Assembly sessions and begin anti-government rallies as early as this week.

But what is needed now is a tough confirmation hearing for Cho, not such rallies.

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