Busan mayor’s office raided in Cho Kuk probe

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Busan mayor’s office raided in Cho Kuk probe

Investigators from the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office raided Busan Mayor Oh Keo-don’s office on Thursday amid a burgeoning probe circling justice minister nominee Cho Kuk and his family.

A prosecutor and three investigators from Seoul arrived at Oh’s office in the Busan Metropolitan Government building at around 9:20 a.m. Thursday to look for evidence to support allegations that the mayor plotted with Cho to award his daughter scholarships at Pusan National University’s medical school, where she currently attends.

One of a litany of allegations against Cho and his family is that the current director of Busan Medical Center awarded Cho’s daughter scholarships six times, worth a total 12 million won ($9,900), when he was her academic adviser at the medical school in return for the top position at the medical center, which is appointed by the mayor of Busan. Cho’s critics accused him of pulling strings for his daughter while he served as President Moon Jae-in’s senior secretary for civil affairs from May 2017 to last month.

The Busan Medical Center and another office at the Busan Metropolitan Government related to finances were also raided on Tuesday.

Busan Mayor Oh, who happens to be part of the ruling Democratic Party (DP), is currently on a European business trip but denied any illegality in a Facebook post Wednesday, saying that the director of Busan Medical Center was “fairly appointed along due process” and that the “truth will be told.”

The scholarship issue is often cited by Cho’s naysayers as one of the two biggest reasons for opposing his nomination. The other is suspicions that Cho’s daughter was wrongly 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 and used that accomplishment to gain admission to Korea University in 2010 and Pusan National University’s medical school in 2015.

Cho, on his way to work in central Seoul Thursday, denied any involvement in the appointment of the director of the Busan Medical Center when asked by reporters about the allegation, continuing he would faithfully prepare for his upcoming confirmation hearing, set to take place on Monday and Tuesday at the National Assembly. As prosecutors zero in on Cho’s family, his brother’s ex-wife was stopped from leaving the country on Thursday morning at Gimhae International Airport in Busan. An official from the Ministry of Justice said she appeared to be embarking on a business trip, but other critics believe she was trying to flee the country.

Cho’s brother’s ex-wife, who currently works as a deputy director for a major Korean airline company, faces allegations she conspired with Cho’s wife in violating real estate laws to help Cho evade paying taxes and went against the airline’s labor policy by holding multiple side jobs.

Rep. Chang Je-won of the major opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) claimed the ex-wife currently serves as co-CEO of a company that was once led by her ex-husband, Cho’s brother, from May 2011 to May 2013. The ex-wife, who has been employed by the airline company for 28 years, was also said to have served as an executive director from 2008 to 2010 and as an auditor from 2010 to 2013 at another company previously led by Cho’s brother; an auditor for three other companies from 2005 to 2007; and as an auditor and an executive director for yet a different company from 2008 to 2010, bringing the total of companies she was illegally involved in to at least six.

As prosecutors’ probe on the Cho family continues to pick up momentum, DP lawmakers raised their criticism Thursday, saying the investigations will only cause mayhem in the country. “The raids could affect parliamentary procedures of [Cho’s] confirmation hearing, which should not happen,” Rep. Lee In-young, DP’s floor leader, said Thursday morning during a KBS radio show. “If prosecutors damage political neutrality as they’ve done before, then public calls for prosecution reform will only grow louder.”

Rep. Cho Jeong-sik, head of the DP’s policy committee, took issue with the process of the raids, accusing prosecutors of intentionally leaking information to the local press in order to undermine Cho’s hearing.

Minister nominees in Korea are subject to non-binding confirmation hearings conducted by the National Assembly before their formal appointment by the president, meaning Moon can go ahead and appoint Cho even without the blessing of the LKP. But in doing so, the DP could face fierce backlash from opposition lawmakers, who may threaten to boycott parliamentary activities like in the past. Moon’s approval rating is also at stake. A Realmeter poll of 502 adults across the country showed Thursday that 55 percent of the country was against Cho as justice minister, while 39 percent that he should fill the role.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, IM JANG-HYUK [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]
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