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Cho Kuk’s resignation dominates parliamentary audit of Justice Ministry

The parliamentary audit of the Justice Ministry, held Tuesday without the minister, was dominated by political wrangling over Justice Minister Cho Kuk’s resignation the previous day over corruption allegations surrounding his family.

The audit proceeded with Vice Justice Minister Kim O-su taking the place of Cho, who stepped down 35 days after he was appointed amid strong resistance from the opposition parties.

The opposition bloc denounced Cho as “irresponsible” and demanded an apology from President Moon Jae-in for having appointed Cho, while the ruling Democratic Party of Korea denounced the opposition’s actions as a political offensive.

“However afraid he was of taking the oath, he could have expressed his position on prosecution reform and clarified the allegations (involving his family) if he had been confident. But he quit a day before the audit. So cowardly,” said Rep. Chang Je-won of the Liberty Korea Party during the audit.

Vice Justice Minister Kim O-su answers questions from the Legislation and Judiciary Committee during the parliamentary audit at the National Assembly on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
Vice Justice Minister Kim O-su answers questions from the Legislation and Judiciary Committee during the parliamentary audit at the National Assembly on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

He also added that the measures to reform the prosecution -- unveiled by Cho just hours before his resignation -- had the “ill intention” of exerting pressure on the prosecution’s ongoing investigation into Cho’s family.

Cho proposed measures to limit the power of prosecutors in direct investigations by abolishing special investigation units, as well as changes to controversial investigation practices such as public summoning.

The Cabinet on Tuesday approved parts of the prosecutorial reform plans.

Prosecutors are investigating corruption allegations involving Cho’s wife and a cousin once removed. Cho’s cousin was arrested for allegedly running a shady private equity fund, and Cho’s wife, Chung Kyung-shim, is suspected of having conspired with him. Separately, she was brought to trial over suspicions that she forged university application materials for her daughter.

“About Cho Kuk, you say it is a crime and Cho’s family is a group of swindlers, but nothing has been revealed for the past two months,” said Rep. Kim Jong-min of the Democratic Party of Korea. “This is a political offensive.”

The planned creation of an independent body tasked with investigating high-ranking government officials embroiled in corruption allegations, which is part of the judicial reform bill pending at the National Assembly, also topped the agenda at the audit.

“Separating the right to investigate and the right to indict is a global standard. There are no bodies that have both rights anywhere else in the world,” said Democratic Party Rep. Geum Tae-seop at the audit.

“How would you keep such a body’s abuse of power in check?”

Responding to the question, Vice Justice Minister Kim, a possible candidate for the top post at the Justice Ministry, said such a body is necessary for stricter investigations of high-ranking government officials and the powerful.

“We submitted the bill considering that there is a need for a body that can keep in check the prosecution, which has exclusive rights to investigate and indict,” Kim said. “The head of the body should be controlled by the National Assembly.”

The National Assembly is scheduled to begin deliberation Wednesday on the judicial reform bill, which was put on the fast track in April. But a tough road is expected ahead, with the ruling party supporting the creation of a body to investigate corruption cases against high-ranking officials and the opposition bloc objecting to it.

The vice minister also expressed support for separating the right to investigate and the right to indict -- both of which have been monopolized by the prosecution.

“By separating the rights, I think prosecutors can focus more on filing charges,” he said.

Concerning the investigation into Cho’s family, he said the probe would be conducted according to principles and procedures.

By Ock Hyun-ju (