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Embattled nominee Cho takes his case to media

Press conference may be the closest public gets to a hearing  PLAY AUDIO

Sept 03,2019
Justice minister nominee Cho Kuk, far right, holds a press conference with no time limit at the National Assembly on Monday in western Seoul. Cho denied allegations about his daughter’s academic career and family wealth. [OH JONG-TAEK]
Controversial justice minister nominee Cho Kuk opened himself up to the media at a press conference at the National Assembly Monday that went on as long as the reporters desired.

But Cho spent a lot of the time denying allegations about his daughter’s academic career and family wealth and urged the local media not to “attack” his children with false reports.

Cho, who until late July served as President Moon Jae-in’s senior secretary for civil affairs, said it was only after he was nominated as justice minister by Moon in early August and started preparations for the confirmation hearing that he learned specifically about his daughter’s controversial credit for a medical research paper and hefty investments his wife and two children made in a private equity fund.

The confirmation hearing was originally supposed to be held yesterday and today at the National Assembly building in Yeouido, western Seoul, by lawmakers on the parliamentary Legislation and Judiciary Committee, but the hearing failed to open on schedule after lawmakers from the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) on the committee squabbled over a list of witnesses to summon.

The LKP, which vehemently opposes Cho’s appointment as justice minister, wanted to call in Cho’s family members to be questioned.

With the likelihood growing of no confirmation hearing ever being held, Cho asked the DP Monday morning if he could hold a press conference at the National Assembly.

The ruling party lent its support, allowing him to take questions from reporters in a room. Cho said he would take any question no matter how long the press conference lasted.

The press conference started at 3:30 p.m. and ended at 2:15 a.m. Tuesday.

One of the first allegations brought up by reporters was that Cho’s daughter was cited as the first author of an English-language research paper in the Korean Journal of Pathology in 2008 after a two-week internship at Dankook University while she was a high school student and that she allegedly used that accomplishment to gain admission to Korea University’s College of Life Sciences & Biotechnology in 2010, the Seoul National University Graduate School of Environmental Studies in 2014 and Pusan National University’s medical school in 2015.

Cho’s daughter also faces allegations that she received scholarships multiple times at Seoul National University and Pusan National University despite the fact she barely took classes in the former school and flunked two semesters in the latter.

In regards to the research paper, Cho said he did not, nor did anyone else in his family, personally contact the professor who led the research about giving his daughter first author credit, though at the time, he did feel “surprised” about the fact his daughter’s name came first. Cho said he thinks his daughter was named first author because she was good in English and made a “big contribution” to the research team when they had to organize details of their experiments into an English-language paper. Cho also denied any involvement in his daughter’s scholarships, saying he does not know how she was selected as a recipient.

The justice minister nominee also said it was only recently that he learned specifically about his family’s investments, calling himself “ignorant” when it comes to “economic and business” matters. Cho said his wife is also “not an investment expert” and that she was only taking advice from Cho’s first cousin once removed, who’s an “investment expert in the family.”

But asked about connections to his first cousin once removed, Cho tried to distance himself, saying he only sees that relative once a year and lately learned through the media that he fled the country.

Slamming Cho for holding the press conference and the DP for allowing it, the LKP on Monday suggested the two parties make a decision on the list of witnesses for Cho’s confirmation hearing, and as required by law, hold the session five days afterwards. The LKP said it would drop its request to summon Cho’s mother, wife and daughter.

The DP turned down the offer, saying the confirmation hearing can’t be held at all because the LKP failed to meet the original date.

Minister nominees in Korea are subject to non-binding confirmation hearings conducted by the National Assembly before their formal appointment by the president, an often brutal process of questioning. By law, however, the president doesn’t need endorsement from the National Assembly to appoint ministers, meaning Moon can go ahead and appoint Cho no matter what happens at his confirmation hearing - or if no hearing is held at all. With Cho, Moon is widely expected to go ahead.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, HA JUN-HO [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]


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