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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Sept. 9)

All News 07:03 September 09, 2020

Truth about favors scandal
Minister allegedly used influence for her son

Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae has denied allegations that she used her influence to get her son special favors during his military service in 2017. But her denial tactics have only deepened suspicions that her son, 27, surnamed Seo, extended his sick leave improperly with the help of his mother who was chairwoman of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) at that time.

The allegations emerged last December when Choo, then a five-term lawmaker, underwent her confirmation hearing at the National Assembly after her nomination as justice minister. In January she succeeded Cho Kuk, who resigned over mounting allegations about corruption and admissions fraud regarding his wife and daughter.

Much to the public's dismay, Minister Choo seems to be following in the footsteps of her predecessor, who is accused of damaging the value of equal opportunities, fair procedure and just results. If the scandal proves to be true, Choo cannot avoid criticism for trampling on the values President Moon Jae-in holds dear. It is shameful to see the former and incumbent justice ministers reveal their hypocrisy and double standards.

In South Korea, education and military service are the most sensitive issues that affect parents and their children. They are a barometer of equality, fairness and justice. Many powerful and rich people have tried to monopolize educational opportunities for their children. They have also taken flak for exercising their undue influence to help their male children evade mandatory military duty.

Choo appears to have sought favors for her son. Opposition lawmakers have continued to disclose new information and evidence that could prove her suspected role in the scandal. They have stepped up the offensive against Choo and her son, who served with the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division as part of the Korean Augmentation to the United States Army (KATUSA).

Rep. Kim Do-eup of the main opposition People Power Party claimed that an unnamed soldier who was on duty June 25, 2017, discovered Seo's failure to return to base and ordered him back via a phone call. Kim quoted the soldier as saying that an army captain from a Korean liaison unit came to his office and ordered him to list Seo as being on vacation.

Another PPP legislator, Shin Won-sik, revealed a transcript of his phone conversation with a retired colonel who was in charge of personnel management of KATUSA soldiers. According to the transcript, a Korean captain said that he received a call from Choo's aide asking if Seo's sick leave could be extended. This could imply that Choo's office pressured the captain to extend the sick leave for her son.

Choo also faces allegations that she asked defense ministry officials to transfer her son from the 2nd infantry base in Uijeongbu to the Eighth U.S. Army base in Yongsan, Seoul. She also allegedly asked the officials to pick Seo as a volunteer interpreter for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. If those allegations are found to be true, Choo may face charges of violating the Anti-Corruption Law.

It is hard to expect the prosecution to conduct a fair and thorough investigation under the supervision of Choo's justice ministry. The authorities should form an independent team to shed light on the scandal. Lawmakers need to consider a parliamentary fact-finding mission to lay bare the truth. Choo should not dare to cover up the case. Instead she must cooperate with the investigation, or accept growing calls for her to step down as justice minister.

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