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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Dec. 25)

Editorials from Korean dailies 10:33 December 25, 2020

Step toward fair society
Time to beef up anti-corruption campaign

A Seoul court sentenced Chung Kyung-sim, the wife of former Justice Minister Cho Kuk, to four years in prison Wednesday for committing admissions fraud for her daughter and participating in dubious investments in a private equity fund. She was also fined 500 million won ($453,000) and ordered to forfeit 140 million won in illegal monetary gains.

The ruling is seen as the judiciary's efforts to crack down on the misdeeds committed by the family of a ranking official and confidant of President Moon Jae-in. It implies that members of the political elite should maintain high moral and ethical standards, not to mention abiding by the law.

The guilty verdict also sends a clear message that no one is above the law whoever they are. In fact, Cho and Chung have enjoyed privileges as leading members of our society. They were professors; Cho served as senior presidential secretary for civil affairs; and then became justice minister in September 2019. However, he had to resign over the mounting corruption allegations levelled against him and his family.

First of all, the court decision should serve as an opportunity to step up an anti-corruption campaign. Since his May 2017 inauguration President Moon has vowed to create a fair society. He has also strived to eliminate "old evils" of the previous administration of his predecessor Park Geun-hye who was ousted from power because of massive corruption.

However, the Moon administration and the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) have done little or nothing to fight corruption among their own officials and politicians. Worse, they have tried hard to block the prosecution from investigating core members of this "political power group" for alleged bribery, election rigging and abuse of power.

A typical case in point is a corruption scandal involving Cho and his family. Moon's officials and DPK lawmakers have been engrossed in defending Cho and Chung, while attacking Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl for digging up dirt on them based on "false" allegations. They criticized Yoon for abusing the prosecution's unbridled power to target the former justice minister in defiance of Moon's much-avowed prosecutorial reform. Last week, a disciplinary committee under the Ministry of Justice decided to suspend Yoon from duty for two months, apparently due to his fight against corrupt officials and politicians.

Now the judicial ruling should help end a national divide and conflict between conservatives and progressives, which have deepened due to the Cho's family case. Cho should keep in mind that the court found that he had collaborated with his wife in forging documents, including a college presidential citation in a bid to get their daughter admitted to medical school. Cho, who is also standing trial for corruption, is likely to also receive a guilty verdict.

As the court stated, Chung betrayed society's belief in and expectations for a fair and transparent college admissions system. That's why the court found her guilty of all seven of the charges related to admissions fraud, while acknowledging three of the five charges concerning illicit investments. Fair and equal educational opportunities are more important than anything else here in Korea. If rich and influential parents monopolize these opportunities for their children, the country cannot be a fair society.

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