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A question of decency

Sept 09,2019
President Moon Jae-in is grappling with the tough question of whether to withdraw his nomination of Cho Kuk — former senior Blue House secretary for civil affairs — as justice minister. Moon is reportedly having trouble making a decision after the prosecution kicked off investigations of his wife’s ways of helping the couple’s daughter get into a top university, graduate school and medical school.

Cho’s wife Chung Kyung-sim, a professor at Dongyang University, was indicted on charges of fabricating documents on the same day Cho went through a confirmation hearing at the National Assembly. It turned out that she allegedly kept an image file of the official seal of the university’s president, Choi Sung-hae, on her PC and used that to authenticate an award for her daughter’s volunteer activities as a high school student at the local university to help her enter Korea University. Chung said she did not know how the image file had been stored in her PC. But public suspicions are understandable over how the seal got on the award that the university president denies having bestowed.

If all allegations against Prof. Chung are proven true and other suspicions arise in the process of the prosecution’s investigation, Moon will face tough challenges in administering the government. On top of that, the prosecution is probing the suspicious way Cho’s daughter — as well as a son — received certificates for their activities as an intern at the human rights center at Seoul National University. The new developments suggest Cho’s appointment as justice minister may rely on the results of the prosecution’s investigations.

The Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice, an influential civic group, has urged Cho to abandon his nomination citing “his critical failure to clear all suspicions around himself and his family.” The group warned that if Moon pushes his appointment despite the need for further prosecutorial investigations and upcoming trials, it will create serious concerns about his government. A Korea Research survey showed that 49 percent of the people opposed Cho’s appointment while 37 percent supported it. In particular, 59 percent of the respondents said that suspicions about Cho have not been cleared yet.

Cho’s appointment is not a question of conservatives against progressives, but a question of common sense. The public is seeing more examples of the unfettered privileges of the elite than ever before. They are protesting corruption among the elite after seeing apparent hypocrisy by Cho, who has long championed equality and fairness as an iconic figure of the candlelight movement two years ago, which eventually led to the removal of the conservative Park Geun-hye administration.

Under such volatile circumstances, a Blue House civil affairs secretary posted emotional comments from Cho’s wife on Facebook as if to support her ahead of the prosecution’s investigations. That’s a shameful act as it violates political neutrality and fairness as a civil servant. As he compared the prosecution’s investigation team to “wild wolves,” he is not eligible to talk about independence and neutrality of the prosecution. In fact, the investigations are just the beginning of prosecution reforms Moon has long championed.

We hope Moon sees through the frustration of the people — particularly those in their 20s and 30s — and respect their desire for common decency. He must accept the public’s deepening concerns instead of merely siding with his loyalists.