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(LEAD) Former justice minister denies power abuse charges at first court hearing

All News 14:29 May 08, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS details on hearing and Cho's wife throughout)

SEOUL, May 8 (Yonhap) -- Former Justice Minister and presidential aide Cho Kuk denied charges against him Friday over the alleged suspension of the presidential office's inspection into a high-profile corruption case.

Cho attended a court hearing for the first time since he was charged with abuse of power in January for allegedly halting the probe in 2017 into bribery allegations involving Yoo Jae-soo, then a senior Financial Services Commission official. At that time, Cho was senior presidential secretary for civil affairs.

Cho, now a law professor, was also indicted in December on a dozen charges, including bribery, in connection with his daughter's academic credentials and school scholarship, as well as his family's suspicious private equity investments.

His wife, Chung Kyung-sim, was arrested and indicted in the same cases late last year.

A separate court on Friday rejected the prosecution's request to extend her pre-trial detention, which expires Sunday. She will be released on Sunday night.

Former Justice Minister Cho Kuk appears at the Seoul Central District Court in southern Seoul on May 8, 2020. (Yonhap)

"I will fight off the charges distorted and exaggerated by the prosecution one by one based on facts and legal principles," he told reporters as he appeared at the Seoul Central District Court in the morning. "It will take a long time, but I will fight tirelessly."

Cho, a confidant of President Moon Jae-in, resigned as justice minister in October after months of controversy and massive protests both from his supporters and opponents.

Cho's liberal allies claim the investigation is part of the prosecution's maneuvers to thwart prosecution reforms championed by the prominent criminal law expert.

On the first day of the trial, the court addressed the suspended inspection case. Along with Cho, two former presidential secretaries who were also indicted in the case appeared at the court.

At the hearing, Cho's representatives denied the prosecution's claim that he inappropriately ordered the suspension of the probe into Yoo, who was suspected of taking a kickback. He was arrested late last year on bribery charges.

"After being briefed on Yoo Jae-soo, the defendant ordered an appropriate personnel measure over his misdeed," one of his attorneys said. "The prosecution claims the inspection was suspended, but it was not suspended but completed."

After the inquiry was closed, Cho's office notified the Financial Services Commission of the result.

Cho's side also emphasized the inspection team could not proceed with the probe further because it legally lacked the authority to conduct a forceful investigation.

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