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(LEAD) Justice Minister Cho Kuk offers to resign

National 15:03 October 14, 2019

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout; RECASTS headline and lead)

SEOUL, Oct. 14 (Yonhap) -- Justice Minister Cho Kuk offered to resign Monday amid an ongoing probe into corruption allegations involving his family.

"I'm stepping down as justice minister today," he said in a statement. "I was mere 'kindling' for reforming the prosecution. My role as 'kindling' has come to an end."

Cho was widely seen as the key man to push ahead with President Moon Jae-in's prosecution reform drive.

The surprise announcement comes amid a widening probe over alleged corruption by his family. His wife is suspected of forging a university award to help the couple's daughter gain admission to medical school and of involvement in a dubious private equity fund investment.

It also comes roughly a month after Cho, who previously served as a senior presidential aide for civil affairs, was appointed justice minister despite heated opposition from the conservative bloc.

The president appointed Cho to the post on Sept. 9, saying it would be a "bad precedent" to not appoint Cho solely based on the basis of allegations that have not been confirmed, referring to allegations surrounding his family.

Justice Minister Cho Kuk announces prosecution reform measures at the Gwacheon Government Complex in southern Seoul on Oct. 14, 2019. (Yonhap)

Just a few hours earlier, Cho held his second-ever press briefing as a justice minister on measures to reform the prosecution.

Cho stressed the importance of reforming the prosecution.

"South Korea's power comes from the people. No power can stand above the people. An organizational culture that is for the people and that is people-centric should be established at the prosecution," he said.

In the statement indicating his resignation offer, Cho mentioned the ongoing probes of his family.

"I felt apologetic to the people regarding the ongoing probes of my family but put in my best each day as justice minister to reform the prosecution. But now my role has come to an end," he said.

"Now I hope to put everything down and take care of my family, who are going through the toughest and most painful time of their lives."

Cho's family, including his wife, daughter and son, have been questioned by the prosecution several times regarding suspicions over the family's private equity investment and college admission.

A court procedure involving his wife, a university professor surnamed Chung, was scheduled to start Friday.

Following the announcement, Moon delayed his weekly meeting with his senior aides by an hour to 3 p.m., according to the presidential office.

The president initially planned to make opening remarks mainly on the economy. But he's expected to express his view about Cho's decision and prosecution reform.

mlee@yna.co.kr
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