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(2nd LD) Ex-justice minister questioned by prosecutors over family-related charges

National 18:50 November 14, 2019

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; UPDATES with details about probe throughout)

SEOUL, Nov. 14 (Yonhap) -- Former Justice Minister Cho Kuk was grilled by state prosecutors Thursday over his possible role in his family's alleged wrongdoings, roughly a month after his unexpected resignation.

Cho was questioned over allegations that he may have been involved in some of the charges raised against his arrested wife, Chung Kyung-sim. Chung, a university professor, was indicted on 15 counts related to a dubious private equity fund (PEF) investment and her daughter's college admission.

But Cho, 54, refused to answer questions from prosecutors during an eight-hour probe, his legal representative said, because the suspicions raised against him are not true.

"I've judged that it is pitiful and unnecessary to answer and explain everything," Cho said in a statement issued by his lawyers.

Cho said he feels "miserable" in receiving the probe and claimed that the charges raised against him are "far from truth."

"If prosecutors decide to indict me, I will let the truth be revealed at court," he added.

Cho's appearance at the prosecution's office was not disclosed to the media. He was reportedly questioned as a suspect in the presence of a lawyer.

This Nov. 11, 2019, file photo shows a banner of former Justice Minister Cho Kuk installed in front of the Supreme Prosecutors Office in southern Seoul. (Yonhap)

Investigators appeared to ask whether Cho was involved in or aware of alleged irregularities surrounding financial investments and academic favors.

Cho's wife faces allegations of colluding with a relative of her husband and embezzling money linked to a 1 billion-won (US$854,920) PEF investment by her and her two children.

She is also suspected of buying 600 million won of shares in a KOSDAQ-listed firm after obtaining undisclosed information and of possessing stocks under borrowed names.

If Cho is found to have been aware that his wife bought the shares with funds sent from Cho's bank account, he may face charges of falsely reporting his assets and violating a law that bans government officials from making direct investments.

The scholarship his daughter, a medical school student, received is also among the subjects likely to be raised.

His daughter received a combined 12 million-won scholarship from a professor who was later appointed to head a state-run hospital in the southeastern port city of Busan.

If the scholarship is found to be a form of bribe in exchange for the top post, Cho may face bribery charges.

Investigators are expected to ask Cho if he intervened in the process of issuing dubious internship certificates for his children at a Seoul National University unit where he is a law professor.

The questioning is also expected to touch on whether Cho neglected or actively intervened in alleged tampering with evidence.

The move is the latest in the prosecution's ongoing probe into allegations involving the former minister's family and may lead to additional interrogations of the former minister.

Journalists wait in front of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office in central Seoul on Nov. 14, 2019. Supporters of former justice minister Cho Kuk are also seen holding flowers. (Yonhap)

In addition to his wife, who is currently detained, his brother and a son of a relative are also in custody over numerous suspicions.

Cho, a close aide of President Moon Jae-in, resigned in October amid a controversy over whether he was suitable for the Cabinet post.

Hundreds of thousands of people who supported him or opposed him held rallies across the nation, with the former calling for the prosecution reform. Cho is known as a key architect of the Moon administration's prosecution reform plans.

Following his wife's indictment, Cho said he feels miserable over the situation but claimed that the truth will be told through trials.

The law professor, who previously served as a presidential secretary for civil affairs, said he'll be also grilled by prosecutors soon, adding that everything related to him is subject to suspicion.

"I may find myself in trouble because of what I don't know about or don't remember," Cho wrote in a Facebook post. "I don't know what charges I may face, but it appears my indictment is already scheduled. ... I feel terrible, but I'll do my best to restore my honor and reveal the truth."

mlee@yna.co.kr
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