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Professional indeed

Aug 29,2019
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Controversial justice minister nominee takes questions from reporters Wednesday before heading into an office in Gwanghwamun Square, central Seoul, to prepare for a confirmation hearing. [KIM SANG-SEON]
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Kim Dong-ho
The author is an editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.

Korean parents these days are apologetic toward their children. On social media platforms, they write “I am sorry to my children for the little I have done for them or given to them.” There is one thing money can’t buy — entry to the university of one’s wishes. But the daughter of justice minister nominee Cho Kuk showed there is an exceptional path for people with a reputable family name.

The educational course of Cho’s daughter has hit a raw nerve in Korean society. The young shake with anger due to the sense of betrayal from someone they believed to be a champion of justice. Those with small children are suddenly left with a sense of helplessness. They are appalled by the elitism and prerogatives of the people in high places. All of society is under a collective depression after learning of the personal lives of Cho and his family. The hereditary schooling of the rich elites was not fictional. Despite a per capita income of $30,000, Koreans cannot keep up with high private tuition costs after they pay for rent in Seoul that costs as much as a home in New York. Wealth inequalities are at their worst with the income gap of the top and bottom groups ever widening for the sixth consecutive quarter. But we had no one else to blame but ourselves. We had to work harder if we want to move up.

But from Cho, we have learned that there is another way of life for the most elite. In a private equity fund of 7.4 billion won ($6.1 million), Cho’s wife had deposited 950 million won and his two children had deposited 50 million each. The fund article has a clause that if the payment is not made fully in a given period, the investor would lose up to half of it in penalties and must surrender the sum to another investor. Tax auditors claim that half of the money could be given to his children without them having to pay any inheritance tax.

Cho’s father and mother reported a mere 21 won and 4.52 million won as their total assets, allowing them to be pardoned with debt relief and a write-off. The laundering is the work of a professional to borrow Cho’s own words. Upon allegations that two lawmakers of the People’s Party led by presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo — Moon’s rival in 2016 — had illicitly pocketed bribes from PR firms in the form of donations, Cho called the corrupt practice “a work of professionals” and demanded an internal purge.

The accused had their names cleared at the final trial of the Supreme Court last month. Under the hands of a “professional,” Cho’s daughter passed through high school, university and graduate schools without sitting through any written entry exams. As a high school student, she became the first author of a medical research paper after only a two-week internship program. The publication to an accredited journal would have been her strongest credence in getting into a top university and a medical grad school.

The common belief that education is a sacred channel to overcome poverty and move up in the ladder has been shattered. We had long believed that if we study harder, we can be assured of a better life. We were able to continue on with the belief that life would turn out better if we picked ourselves up despite failures. That common belief has collapsed upon learning that there have been extraordinary courses and short-cuts for others. Helplessness, hopelessness and defeatism can prevail. People have come to doubt the social ladder. That is the biggest harm Cho has caused to our society.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 28, Page 30