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Aides say Cho resigned due to strain of probe on his family

Oct 16,2019
Close aides of Cho Kuk said the former justice minister appeared to have resigned mainly due to the unrelenting pain that his family was undergoing during investigations by the prosecution.

While local media were taken aback by Cho’s announcement on Monday to step down after just 35 days as head of the Justice Ministry, sources who have close ties with Cho said he had expressed pain numerous times over the prosecution’s probe of his family, and at one point, said it was getting difficult to focus on prosecutorial reform.

Cho’s wife’s recent diagnosis of a brain tumor and stroke also appeared to have heavily impacted his decision to finally quit the post.

An acquaintance of Cho, who spoke with the JoongAng Ilbo Tuesday on the condition of anonymity, said the former justice minister told him his family was being “slaughtered” by prosecutors as they questioned Cho’s wife on five separate occasions and his daughter and son once each.

Another acquaintance said he was told by Cho late last month, “I didn’t know it would be this hard to watch my family get investigated.”

Cho’s decision to step down was hidden even among the top ranks of the Ministry of Justice. Cho was said to have told them around Monday lunchtime, just shortly before he publicly announced his resignation to the press at 2 p.m. that same day.

Chung Kyung-sim, Cho’s wife who was undergoing her fifth round of questioning when the statement was released, asked prosecutors if she could leave early, and went straight to the hospital, though for what reason was not immediately known.

On Monday night, Chung, an English professor at Dongyang University in Yeongju, North Gyeongsang, uploaded a poem whose title translates as “Go the Round Path” by poet Park No-hae on her Facebook account along with a photo of a sunset.

“No one can stay at the top of the mountain for long,” the poem read, “The bliss of heaven is short. The pain of hell is short. […] So be bold. Under any circumstance, don’t lose yourself. Under any circumstance, don’t lose human dignity.”

As prosecutors are expected to decide in the coming days whether to file for a pretrial detention warrant for Chung, Cho appears to be preparing to return to Seoul National University’s law school, where he used to teach graduate students.

Cho, who had taken leave from the prestigious public university, applied for a reinstatement on Monday, and a school official said Tuesday that his application had been approved. Cho will likely not teach any classes this semester because registration procedures for courses in the fall semester already wrapped up in early August.

As the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office continues to probe the Cho scandal, prosecutors said Tuesday that two people linked with Cho’s younger brother have been indicted on charges of receiving bribes from teachers at a school operated by the Cho family in exchange for their jobs.

BY JEONG JIN-HO, LEE TAE-YUN AND LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]