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Blue House furious about prosecutors’ probe of nominee

Sept 07,2019
Tensions between the Blue House and the prosecution escalated Friday, as a presidential official lashed out at an ongoing investigation into Cho Kuk, the justice minister nominee.

A Blue House official complained Friday that the prosecution’s probe into suspicions about Cho and his family are unreasonably aggressive. As of now, the prosecution is investigating Cho’s daughter’s admissions to college and medical school and the family’s dubious investments.

“The prosecutors fear Cho becoming justice minister,” he said.

President Moon Jae-in nominated Cho last month to head the Ministry of Justice, calling him the best candidate to complete his administration’s ambitious agenda to reform the powerful law enforcement agencies, particularly the prosecution. Cho, who served as senior presidential secretary for civil affairs until July, has openly promoted the initiative.

“The prosecution conducted raids at 20 to 30 places to investigate suspicions surrounding Cho,” a Blue House official was quoted as saying by Yonhap News Agency on Friday. “They are investigating the case as if it is a treason probe or a massive raid of a nationwide organized crime ring.”

The presidential aide said the prosecution is trying to oust Cho, not seek a justice. “They want to hit Cho, but Cho has no weakness, so they are attacking the family,” he said. “It is a very cruddy method.”

The administration and ruling party started criticizing the prosecution on Thursday. Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said Thursday that the prosecution must not act politically. “The prosecutors must have their own reason, but conducting massive raids on the eve of a confirmation hearing and affecting the verification process is inappropriate,” he said.

Outgoing Justice Minister Park Sang-ki also said Thursday that he was only notified about the prosecution’s raid of Cho’s wife’s office after it was conducted. The prosecution conducted the raid on Tuesday to investigate a suspicion that Cho’s wife had fabricated a volunteer award for their daughter.

“They should have informed me in advance,” Park said, adding that the justice minister has the right to oversee the prosecution’s investigation of a high-profile case.

A senior Blue House official also told the media on Thursday that it has obtained testimony from a Dongyang University official to back the authenticity of the controversial award.

As the Blue House and administration defended Cho, the prosecution made a rare move expressing its own rage. A statement was issued Thursday night by the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office.

“A Blue House senior official gave a media interview to argue that the award was not forged,” an official from the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office said in the statement, distributed to media. “It is extremely inappropriate because it can be seen as the Blue House’s intervention in an ongoing probe.”

The prosecution also said it is extremely unusual for Justice Minister Park to supervise Prosecutor-general Yoon Seok-youl on a particular probe. It said such control is different from the prosecutor-general’s supervision of other prosecutors.

“If the justice minister frequently controls a specific probe and receives investigation plans in advance, orders will be handed down from the Blue House to the minister, then to the prosecutor-general and to other prosecutors. That will compromise the neutrality and independence of a probe,” he said.

The ruling party has been critical of the prosecution’s investigation into Cho since the first raids were conducted on Aug. 27. Democratic Party Chairman Lee Hae-chan said the next day that the prosecutors were trying to protect their own established interests.

Experts in the legal community said the confrontation will escalate. “The ruling party and the administration have labeled Cho as the best person to reform the prosecution,” said a prosecutor-turned-lawyer.

“They are labeling the probe into Cho as the prosecutors’ resistance to reform and trying to use it to unite their supporters.”

BY SER MYO-JA, IM JANG-HYUK [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]


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