More raids in probe of Cho Kuk’s relatives

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More raids in probe of Cho Kuk’s relatives

Prosecutors carried out raids in their investigation of controversial justice minister nominee Cho Kuk Tuesday, including on the office of his wife.

The raids took place just hours after Cho ended a marathon media conference to defend himself and his family from suspicions raised by media and opposition lawmakers over the past weeks. The news conference, which may be the closest thing Cho gets to a confirmation hearing, went on for 11 hours.

Cho, who until late July was President Moon Jae-in’s senior secretary for civil affairs, was nominated on Aug. 9 to head the Ministry of Justice, only to face snowballing corruption allegations about suspected college admission fraud for his daughter and the family’s management of its wealth.

Special Investigation Unit II of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office is investigating his daughter’s academic career, hefty investments his wife and two children made in a dubious private equity fund and the family’s suspicious real estate properties’ management. The prosecution also summoned Tuesday key witnesses for questioning.

Tuesday’s raids and questioning indicate that the investigation is picking up steam. On Aug. 27, the prosecutors made synchronized raids at 20 places involved in the scandal, including the private equity fund and Ungdong School Foundation, a private school foundation owned by the Cho family.

On Tuesday, the prosecution dispatched a 10-member team of prosecutors and investigators to Dongyang University in Yeongju, North Gyeongsang, where Cho’s wife, Chung Kyung-sim, has been working as an English professor since 2011.

The team presented a search and seizure warrant to the university around 10 a.m. and raided Chung’s office, the office of the department of liberal arts and the university’s general affairs office. According to the sources, the investigators took computers and documents from the offices as well as Chung’s human resources file, which contained information on her recruitment and promotions.

Chung was hired as a lecturer in September 2011. In March 2016, she was promoted to associate professor.

Chung is accused of illegal real estate properties transactions, dubious investments and using her influence to arrange special treatment for her daughter’s admission to a prestigious university.

She was not on campus when the raid took place. “Citing a personal reason, she submitted a letter on Friday to cancel her classes for the first week of September,” a university official said.

Ever since his nomination, the academic success of Cho’s 28-year-old daughter, who currently attends Pusan National University’s Graduate School of Medicine, has become the focus of public incredulity.

She studied for two years in a high school in the United States and entered Hanyoung Foreign Language High School in 2007. In 2010, she entered Korea University through an early admission program earmarked for “global leaders.”

In 2014, she entered the Graduate School for Environmental Studies of the Seoul National University (SNU), where Cho has taught law since 2001. She entered Pusan National University’s Graduate School of Medicine in 2015.

The prosecution also raided the Korea International Cooperation Agency in Seongnam, Gyeonggi, starting 9 a.m. as part of its investigation into Cho’s daughter’s academic career.

In 2014, while attending SNU grad school, she posted a message on the Internet bulletin board of Korea University to describe her successful admission to a medical school. She wrote that she was the chief volunteer for the agency’s program in Mongolia when she was a high school student.

On Tuesday, the prosecutors raided the administrative affairs office of SNU’s College of Medicine. Before entering Pusan National University’s medical school in March 2015, she applied to the medical school of SNU. She made it through a first round, but failed in the second round.

She is also accused of having been wrongly cited as the first author of an English-language paper published in the Korean Journal of Pathology in 2008 after a two-week high school internship and using that accomplishment to gain admission to Korea University.

The prosecution summoned Tuesday Chang Young-pyo, a professor in the Department of Medical Science at Dankook University, who listed Cho’s daughter as the first author of that research paper.

The Korean Medical Association held a press conference on Monday and recommended Professor Chang retract the paper. “There is no possible way for Cho, as a high school student, to have made a contribution worthy of the first author credit,” the association said.

Prosecutors also summoned an official from a company linked to the private equity fund invested in by Cho’s family. Six of Cho’s family members including his wife and two children made a 1.4 billion won ($1.15 million) investment in the fund in July 2017. Those six relatives were the only investors in the fund.

In August 2017, the fund invested 1.38 billion won - almost the entire amount of its assets - in Wells C&T, which produces streetlight switches. An executive of Wells C&T was summoned Tuesday for questioning.

The prosecution is investigating the legitimacy of Wells C&T’s winning of big contracts from public institutions after it received the investment. At the time, Cho was serving as senior presidential secretary for civil affairs.

In his press conference on Monday, Cho denied that he was aware of his family’s investment in the private equity fund.

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