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Liberal civic groups turn on Cho

Call for minister to resign, prosecutors to investigate family fund
Oct 03,2019
Liberal civic groups are increasingly withdrawing their support for Justice Minister Cho Kuk and demanding his resignation from the post.

Leaders of a progressive group Spec Watch Korea visited the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office on Wednesday and formally asked prosecutors to investigate seven people including Cho and his wife Chung Kyung-sim as suspects in a series of suspected crimes surrounding the family’s private equity fund investments.

Prosecutors have so far conducted raids and questioned officials related to the fund and companies, but not Cho or Chung. Spec Watch Korea said Cho should be investigated on charges of ethical breach, as the suspicious investments were made while he was working as the senior civil affairs secretary to Moon. It also said Cho should be investigated on charges of receiving bribes and embezzlement.

The petition for the investigation did not include any mention of the fraudulent admissions allegations involving Cho’s children.

Spec Watch Korea is a liberal civic group, which had played a key role in the abuse of power scandal that led to Park Geun-hye’s impeachment. In September 2016, it filed a petition to the prosecution to investigate Choi Soon-sil, a longtime friend of President Park, and dozens of tycoons over an allegation that the Blue House had strong-armed conglomerates to make massive donations to her pet projects. It also asked the prosecution to investigate Woo Byung-woo, who served as senior presidential secretary for civil affairs in the Park Blue House, for abuse of power.

Yoon Young-dae, head of the Spec Watch Korea, said the Cho family’s private equity investments were illegal, because the law bars senior officials and their spouses from making stock investments. Yoon also said Chung’s contract with WFM, a company invested in by the private equity fund, to receive a monthly consulting fee, is illegal. He said the contract was intended to show the firm’s link to Cho and benefit from his reputation as a key member of the administration, thus to increase WFM’s sales and subsequent rise of its stock price.

The center said its analysis into the accounting data of the private equity fund and companies it had invested in began in August. It also said Cho should be held accountable for taking bribes of over 6.6 billion won ($5.47 million) through his wife, based on the analysis.

“We support President Moon and his policies, but the suspected crimes committed by Cho must be investigated, separately from the controversy surrounding the reform of the prosecution,” the center said. “If prosecutors do not viciously investigate the allegations, Cho will be automatically exonerated. Therefore, a thorough investigation is a must.”

A similar argument was made earlier by Kim Kyung-yul, an accountant and a leader of one of the country’s largest civic groups.

Kim, who served as the head of the Center for Economic and Financial Justice at the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD), made a posting on Sunday on his Facebook, criticizing Cho and demanded for his resignation.

The PSPD decided Monday to punish him about the incident. Kim, who has been a member of the group’s leadership, reportedly declared his intention to step down before posting his opinion online.

The PSPD is a key patron of the Moon administration. Many of its leaders are working in the Blue House and government.

Cho worked as the deputy head of PSPD’s Center for Judicial Watch from 2000 to 2002 and head of the center from 2004 to 2005. From 2007 to 2008, Cho was the deputy head of the PSPD’s operations committee.

In a radio interview on Tuesday, Kim said he was heartbroken by the PSPD’s decision to punish him.

“Several people spent days and nights to analyze the Cho scandal, and we concluded that there is a serious problem that can possibly expand further,” Kim said. “The PSPD did not say a word about the Cho scandal, but it announced that it will punish me. I was seriously hurt.”

A leader of another civic group, the Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice, also demanded Cho’s resignation. Professor Park Sang-in of Seoul National University’s Graduate School of Public Administration, who heads the policy committee of the group, posted the message on his Facebook on Wednesday, withdrawing his support for Cho.

“The president and Cho already presented a plan to reform the prosecution and the prosecution expressed its willingness to accept it,” Park said. “It is imminent that Cho’s wife will be summoned for questioning, and now is the time for Cho to resign voluntarily without burdening the prosecution and the president.”

BY KIM MIN-SANG, SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]