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Cho’s unanswered questions

Aug 20,2019
Allegations against Cho Kuk — a former senior secretary for civil affairs at the Blue House and nominated for the justice minister — are overflowing ahead of his confirmation hearing. There are so many to keep track of, with some of them raising questions beyond ethics. The growing list of suspicions boils down to the fundamental question of his eligibility to guard law and order in the country.

Most of the allegations are related to the wealth of himself and his family members. Cho’s mother lives in an apartment owned by the ex-wife of Cho’s brother. Neighbors say that Cho’s brother and his ex-wife still live in the house. A rent contract was drawn up between Cho’s wife and his former sister-in-law 10 days before Cho was nominated to head the Ministry of Justice. The arrangement is suspected of masking that the Cho’s are the owners of the house, an act that would violate the laws on real-name real estate transactions.

Cho’s potential involvement or awareness of the irregular write-off of debt owed by Cho’s brother is another contentious issue. Opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) Rep. Joo Kwang-deok claimed that Cho’s brother divorced his wife in order to keep his wealth and avoid paying off his own debt of over 4 billion won ($3.3 million). His brother is entitled to receive 5.1 billion won from the Woongdong school foundation, whose board was long headed by Cho’s late father and also included Cho Kuk. Woondong did not take legal action against the Cho family. If Cho knew of the mysterious and questionable financial dealings involving the school funds, he also could have broken laws and caused damages to others.

His investment in a private equity fund is also suspicious. His family put 1.05 billion won in a fund investing in a business that bids to get government contracts to install street lights. The fund, which is earmarked at 1.3 billion won, is mostly financed by the Cho family. Since Cho became the major shareholder, the company’s sales more than doubled. Cho claims he was not aware of what company the fund invested in, but critics suspect the fund could have been an instrument for him to stock up wealth and hand it over to his children without paying the inheritance tax.

There are suspicions about his wife’s late tax payments, too. Cho also admitted to faking his residence so that his children could attend a certain school. Cho, a harsh critic to others, has been overly generous towards himself. The Blue House and ruling party officials have scorned a former senior secretary for civil affairs at the Blue House under ousted President Park Geun-hye as scammers. But is Cho any different?

The Blue House and Cho himself must seriously contemplate whether he is really fit to serve the people and uphold the law.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 19, Page 30