Cho faces questions in ex-Busan vice mayor probe

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Cho faces questions in ex-Busan vice mayor probe

Cho Kuk, President Moon Jae-in’s former senior secretary for civil affairs who stepped down as the justice minister last October in the wake of a litany of corruption charges against him and his family, appeared at the Seoul Eastern District Prosecutors’ Office on Monday for yet another probe. This one is looking into allegations that he ordered a cover-up of bribery accusations against the former vice mayor of Busan.

Cho arrived at the office in Songpa District, southern Seoul, at around 9:30 a.m. through an underground route that was off-limits to the press.

He was summoned as a defendant.

Cho was previously summoned by prosecutors last Wednesday, when he was called into the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office in Seocho District, southern Seoul, to answer questions about allegations surrounding his family’s private equity fund investments and his daughter’s admissions scandal.

That time, he was summoned as a suspect.

In Cho’s latest questioning on Monday, prosecutors were expected to ask him whether he really stopped a probe in the Blue House in late 2017 that was looking into former Busan Vice Mayor Yoo Jae-soo’s bribery allegations, and if so, why.

Unlike the probe into his family’s alleged misconduct, in which Cho exercised his right to silence, he was expected to answer questions to prosecutors, as his lawyer recently told media that Cho would “probably” offer his testimony.

Cho has never spoken publicly about the Yoo probe, but his aides have been telling the media that Cho didn’t make the decision to close the investigation into Yoo alone and that the final call was made in a three-person meeting that was also participated in by Baek Won-woo, President Moon’s former secretary for civil affairs, and Park Hyoung-chul, Moon’s former secretary for anticorruption.

Cho’s aides also said the trio closed the probe “in a normal process” at the time because they thought the evidence that Yoo received bribes when he worked as a high-ranking official at the Financial Services Commission (FSC) was too weak.

Instead of continuing the probe, the three secretaries decided to refer the case to the FSC and have Yoo voluntarily offer a letter of resignation, Cho’s aides quoted him as saying.

Park, however, is believed to have recently told prosecutors during questioning that he and Baek didn’t have any say in the final decision and that the Yoo probe was closed solely due to Cho’s order.

Suspicions that top Blue House officials tried to cover up the allegations against Yoo were first raised last February when a former Blue House official, Kim Tae-woo, accused Cho of ordering the cover-up and formally filed a complaint with prosecutors asking them to investigate the case.

The whistle-blower, who used to work in the Blue House special inspection bureau, claimed that his team members received a tip-off about Yoo’s bribery accusations and launched a probe to get to the bottom of the case but was forced to wrap up the investigation after receiving an order from an unknown source at the Blue House.

Yoo was head of the financial policy bureau of the FSC at that time. Yoo was never penalized, and he resigned from his post in the FSC in March 2018, only to become Busan’s vice mayor in July 2018. He stepped down last month after getting summoned by prosecutors for questioning.

Last week, prosecutors indicted Yoo with physical detention, denying claims from Cho’s side that the Blue House couldn’t find grounds to continue the probe into Yoo. Prosecutors said the Blue House already knew that “a large part” of Yoo’s allegations were true - or could confirm whether they were true - when it decided to stop the investigation.

Prosecutors accused Yoo of receiving nearly 49.5 million won ($42,000) worth of bribes from business executives of four different companies while working at the FSC from 2016, in the form of expensive golf clubs, plane tickets and free use of extravagant golf hotels, among other perks.

BY KIM SU-MIN, LEE GA-YOUNG AND LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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