+ A

Cho vows to find out how Park’s inner circle ran

Civil affairs secretary will look into dealings of his predecessor
May 13,2017
President Moon Jae-in has ordered an investigation into how the Blue House failed to catch the signs of an abuse of power and corruption scandal that doomed Park Geun-hye’s presidency.

The new president also ordered an additional probe into the 2014 sinking of the ferry Sewol ferry that killed hundreds.

During a lunch with his new presidential aides on Thursday, Moon said the public has high hopes for criminal justice system reform after he named Cho Kuk, a well-known critic of the prosecution, as the senior civil affairs secretary. Moon said the public also wants a reinvestigation into the Sewol’s sinking. The president also said the public was troubled that an independent counsel probe into the abuse of power scandal of the Park administration ended without an extension.

Moon’s remarks were echoes of key campaign pledges. During the presidential campaign, Moon promised to deal with some of the worst legacies of nine years of conservative party rule. In addition to the abuse of power during Park’s term, the Lee Myung-bak administration’s four -rivers restoration project, energy diplomacy and defense industry corruption were named as targets.

Cho told the JoongAng Ilbo Thursday that Moon’s remarks constituted an order to go after Woo Byung-woo, Cho’s predecessor in the Park Blue House. Cho vowed to investigate whether Woo and his associates deliberately ignored or concealed signs of the scandal involving Park, her confidante Choi Soon-sil and contributions they strong-armed from conglomerates.

“We can investigate right now what happened in the civil affairs senior secretary’s office in the past,” Cho said, adding that Moon’s order was not a reinvestigation by the prosecution of the Park-Choi scandal, which is currently being tried in court. “He meant that the fundamental causes must be laid bare in order to allow proper investigations in the future,” Cho said.

Cho went further Friday in explaining his plan.

“About 100 officials worked in Woo’s office, and most of them returned to their original posts,” Cho told the JoongAng Ilbo. “If the manpower was used properly to investigate the problems involving Park’s relatives and friends as well as the Chung Yoon-hoi scandal [in 2014], we would have not seen the Park-Choi scandal. Why my predecessor failed to do his job and why the prosecution did not investigate the issues properly will be checked.”

The Chung scandal refers to allegations that Chung, former husband of Choi and Park’s longtime aide, pulled strings on political affairs from behind the scenes.

Rumors also spread that a power struggle took place between Chung and Park’s younger brother, Park Ji-man. Accusations were also made that Choi was the true power who controlled Park.

A Blue House report on the allegations was leaked in 2014, but Park personally denied the allegations and the Blue House only stressed the need to investigate the leak, not its veracity. “I suspect the civil affairs senior secretary ordered the prosecution to end the investigation into the Chung scandal,” Choi said.

While Cho said he will go after officials and prosecutors who worked with Woo, the investigation won’t target people who are currently undergoing trials such as Park and Choi.

Cho said Moon’s order has nothing to do with telling the prosecution how to conduct an investigation. “The order to investigate Woo’s performance is nothing wrong, and I, as the new civil affairs senior secretary, have the authority,” he said.

The conservative Liberty Korea Party reacted sensitively on Friday. “If Moon attempts to make political retaliation under the justification of cleaning up old evils, the people will never allow it,” said Rep. Kim Myung-yeon, spokesman of the party. He also criticized Moon for trying to exterminate the conservatives using the excuse of reform.

Meanwhile, Moon accepted Friday the resignation of Prosecutor-general Kim Soo-nam. Kim offered to step down on Thursday shortly after Moon appointed Cho as the new civil affairs senior secretary to overhaul the prosecution. Kim is a holdover from the Park administration.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]