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[Editorial] Time to probe Cho

Suspected attempts to destroy evidence make investigation inevitable.

Prosecutors charged Chung Kyung-sim, Justice Minister nominee Cho Kuk’s wife, on Friday night.

Chung, a professor at Dongyang University, has been charged with forging a presidential citation of the university that was awarded to her daughter. The indictment was filed with the court about an hour before the statute of limitations on the case expired.

Choi Sung-hae, president of the university, revealed that Chung called him Wednesday to ask him to tell the press that he had delegated the right to issue presidential citations to the head of an English education center that had awarded it to her daughter.

Cho’s daughter allegedly volunteered to teach English at the center and received the citation stamped with the seal of the university president. Cho’s daughter included the award in her cover letter and submitted a copy of it in 2014 when she applied for admission to Pusan National University’s Graduate School of Medicine. She was admitted into the school.

Choi said that Cho told him over the phone, handed over by his wife, “Could you just do it (as my wife asked)? According to my team of legal advisers, if you do so, you can live and also let my wife live.”

Choi’s words suggest Cho might have been in the know about the forgery and was trying to hide it.

To flip around Cho’s alleged remarks, he essentially said, “If you do not do it, your life will be difficult.” This constitutes attempted destruction of evidence and blackmail.

When his wife’s call to Choi was reported by the media, he explained it to the press but hid the fact that he had talked with Choi over the phone. He asserted he never talked with Choi over the citation in question.

His telephone conversation with Choi should be treated differently from his wife’s exchange with Choi.

Cho argues that he asked Choi to tell the truth and had not pressured the latter. But his argument is hardly convincing. Cho’s wife also sent text messages to Choi, asking for him to make a “wise explanation” of the citation to the press.

Before the prosecution’s raids on her office at the university, Cho’s wife entered it at night with a fund manager of Korea Investment & Securities, who manages her deposits and investments, and carried her desktop computer out.

She said she needed the computer to do her job and prepare for her legal response. The computer was later found in the trunk of the fund manager’s car.

Furthermore, prosecutors reportedly found a picture file of Dongyang University’s presidential seal saved on the computer.

After the Cho couple’s phone conversation with Choi, Rhy Si-min, head of the Ro Moo-hyun Foundation, and Rep. Kim Doo-kwan of the ruling party, made phone calls to Choi and talked with him about the citation issue. This raises questions on whether attempts to manipulate or hide evidence were organized.

The citation reportedly says Cho’s daughter did volunteer work for two years from 2010. But a retired Dongyang University professor, who founded the center and headed it when Cho’s daughter supposedly did the volunteer work, told a news outlet, “I heard the name of Cho’s daughter for the first time.”

The former professor said that Cho’s daughter never did volunteer work at the center during the period. Cho said the period was “written wrongly” on the citation. Cho’s wife became a professor of the university in 2011 and the head of the center in 2013.

In addition, a computer of the School of Law at Seoul National University was found to have a file of the first draft of a pathology thesis that listed Cho’s daughter as its lead author. The file was found to have been created and last saved by Cho Kuk.

This raises suspicions that Cho was likely involved in the listing of his daughter as the thesis lead author. The Korean Society of Pathologists has revoked the controversial thesis, while Cho said he knew little about issues related to the thesis.

The mounting suspicions ought to be clarified in detail regardless of Cho’s confirmation hearing and whether he is appointed as justice minister. The prosecution’s investigations must not fizzle out or be swayed by political factors.

Cho has held out so far with the argument to the effect that he himself did nothing illegal. But suspicions of his direct involvement in irregularities are emerging. It appears inevitable for the prosecution to investigate him. Cho must first undergo investigation on suspicions of attempted evidence destruction.