Ex-Blue House secretary to face criminal investigation

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Ex-Blue House secretary to face criminal investigation

Choe Kang-wook, a former secretary of the Moon Jae-in Blue House and a lawmaker-elect, will face a criminal investigation into illegal stock investment.

Spec Watch Korea, a liberal civic group, filed a criminal complaint on April 13 against Choe for allegedly making stock investments in violation of the Public Service Ethics Act. Choe, who resigned from the post of the presidential secretary for civil service discipline in March, ran as a proportional representation candidate of the Open Minjoo Party and was elected on Wednesday.

The JoongAng Ilbo learned Monday that the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office recently assigned the complaint to a criminal department. The civic group claims that Choe had violated the Public Service Ethics Act when he was serving in the Moon Blue House by keeping his stakes in his brother’s company.

According to the JoongAng Ilbo, Choe disclosed in March last year in the Government Gazette that he owns 24,000 shares, worth 120 million won ($98,000), of a company, Prototype. He also published the same report in the gazette in March this year, as senior public servants are required to routinely disclose their assets.

Prototype was established in 2006 as an educational content development, trade and online advertisement business. Choe’s younger brother has been the CEO of the company since its foundation, and the older Choe’s shares account for a 24 percent stake of the firm. He served as its director from March to September 2009.

According to the Public Service Ethics Act, a senior public servant, such as a Blue House secretary, must sell off his or her stocks if they are worth over 30 million won, within one month of appointment. Alternatively, the official must put the stocks in a blind trust and inform the Government Ethics Committee. Failure to do so is punishable by up to a six-month prison term.

Recently, the prosecution indicted former Justice Minister Cho Kuk for having violated the law on public servants’ ethics. The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office indicted Cho in December for having lied about his and his wife’s investments in a private equity fund when he disclosed assets.

“Cho obstructed the work of the Government Ethics Committee officials,” the prosecution said at the time. “He also submitted false data and lied when he disclosed assets as a senior public servant.”

It is possible that Choe, in contrast to Cho, had informed the Ministry of Personnel Management about his stake in his brother’s firm and such assets were approved. Experts, however, are skeptical that the government had given such approval, because his job at the Blue House was too comprehensive.

“If Choe was permitted [to keep the stocks], that is also a problem,” said Yoon Young-dae, head of Spec Watch Korea. “And the company could have lured more investments by using the information that Choe owns its stocks.”

“While working in the Blue House for one year and six months, he repeatedly tried to publicize his ownership in the Government Gazette, rather than selling his shares off,” Yoon continued, questioning Choe’s intention. “That is extremely unethical.”

The JoongAng Ilbo made multiple attempts to contact Choe but received no response.

Meanwhile, Choe will stand trial for a separate charge today. The prosecution indicted him in January on a charge of helping Cho’s son apply to law schools by issuing false internship certificates in 2017. At the time, Choe was a lawyer at a law firm. He joined the Blue House in September 2018, when Cho was the senior presidential secretary for civil affairs.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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