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Cho’s younger brother detained for questioning

Nov 02,2019
The younger brother of the former Justice Minister Cho Kuk was taken into the prosecution’s custody on Thursday, after a local court granted a warrant to question him about corruption allegations surrounding a private school foundation run by the Cho family.

Judge Shin Jong-yeol of the Seoul Central District Court issued a warrant around 11:30 p.m. on Thursday to allow the prosecution to detain the 52-year-old Cho to probe various criminal charges surrounding the Ungdong School, a middle school operated by the private school foundation.

“Taking into account the progress of the investigation since the first warrant request was turned down and the additional charges and grounds the prosecution has presented, I conclude there is a sufficient need to detain the suspect,” Judge Shin said.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office made an unsuccessful first attempt on Oct. 9 to obtain a detention warrant for the younger brother. After additional probes, the prosecution filed the second application earlier this week, and the warrant hearing took place on Thursday for six hours.

The brother of the former justice minister was suspected of having received bribes worth 2 million won ($171,424) in exchange for offering jobs to teachers at Ungdong School. The prosecution also suspects that he destroyed evidence and arranged a co-conspirator’s flight to another country.

In addition, he also faces an accusation that he and his ex-wife, while running a construction firm, received a 1.6-billion-won contract from the Ungdong School in 1996 but did not follow through on the job. The pair in 2006 sued the foundation for 5.1 billion won, which was supposed to include interest accrued on the unpaid bill, but prosecutors suspect the suit may have been deliberately arranged by family members as a way to embezzle the school foundation’s funds.

After its first warrant application was rejected, the prosecutors continued probes and added new charges when it sought the warrant on Tuesday. One of the additional charges was related to a suspicion that the younger Cho had used the lawsuits to avoid the Korea Asset Management Corporation’s foreclosure of the Ungdong School for its unpaid debts.

The court particularly noted that new charge as one of its primary grounds for issuing the detention warrant.

Cho’s younger brother is the third member of the Cho family to be detained since the prosecution launched massive investigations into corruption allegations against the family. Cho’s first cousin was apprehended for a series of suspected financial crimes on Sept. 14, and the prosecution arrested him for further questioning two days later while Cho’s wife, Chung Kyung-sim, was detained on Oct. 23 over allegations that she had forged and used academic documents for her daughter’s graduate school admissions and made illegal stock investments.

Other members of the Cho family are expected to be summoned and questioned about the corruption scandal surrounding the school. Cho’s mother, the chairwoman of the board of directors of the Ungdong School Foundation, and Cho’s younger brother’s ex-wife will likely be questioned.

Cho Kuk and Chung are also expected to be investigated. The couple was involved in creating questions for the recruitment exams of the school, and Cho’s younger brother was suspected of leaking the tests and answers in return for money.

Both Cho and Chung have denied having anything to do with the employment corruption allegations.

The prosecution has also been looking into the suspicion that Cho’s mother received the money that the younger Cho had raised by selling the test answers. The younger Cho reportedly told the prosecution that he had secretly picked up the exam papers from his mother’s house and sold them to applicants, but he never gave the money to his mother.

But the prosecution said the statement may change when he is interrogated again under state custody. “A suspect often changes his or her statements after detention,” said a senior prosecution official. “That is why we are putting efforts to take a suspect into custody.”

According to the sources, the younger Cho generally admitted to the bribery charge at the hearing.

In regards to Chung, the prosecution said Friday that it has extended her detention period and she will remain in state custody until Nov. 11.

“We asked the court for an extension, and the court allowed us to hold her till Nov. 11,” said a prosecution official.

When Chung was arrested on Oct. 24, the prosecution was allowed to hold her for 10 days with a possibility of a single extension of another 10 days. The initial detention period was to expire on Friday.

Chung is suspected of making a false report to the financial authority about her fund investments. She is also suspected of making illegal stock investments using insider information.

Since being taken into custody she has been questioned three times. On the first two rounds of questioning, she was mainly investigated about her role in the admissions misconducts of her children. During the third questioning, she was investigated about the suspected financial crimes. She reportedly denied most charges.

BY KIM SU-MIN [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]