Supreme Court upholds conviction of Chung Kyung-sim for academic fraud
The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a lower court's conviction of Chung Kyung-sim, wife of disgraced former Justice Minister Cho Kuk, on charges of academic fraud to help their daughter get into college and graduate schools.
Chung, a former professor at Dongyang University, was indicted in 2019 on 15 charges, including the forgery of her university president’s citation and a false internship certificate to bolster her daughter Cho Min’s application to a medical school in 2013.
In a trial presided over by Justice Cheon Dae-yeop, the country’s highest court confirmed the original four-year prison sentence, first handed down by the Seoul Central District Court in December 2020.
Chung had appealed the original sentence to the Seoul High Court, which upheld the four-year sentence but reduced the fine from 500 million won ($452,000) to 50 million won, along with reducing a separate penalty of 138 million won for unlawful gains to 10 million won.
The reduced fines were maintained, along with the prison sentence, by the Supreme Court, which denied Chung’s request for bail.
A major point of contention during the Supreme Court’s trial of Chung was whether a computer in the university lecturers’ lounge that investigators obtained from a teaching assistant was admissible evidence in court.
Prosecutors collected key evidence supporting the academic fraud charges against Chung from the computer, including files containing internship certificates and the university president’s citation that were later used in her daughter’s school applications.
Chung’s defense maintained during the original trial and throughout her appeals that the computer constituted inadmissible evidence because prosecutors confiscated it without following legal due process.
However, the Supreme Court rejected Chung’s argument and accepted the computer as evidence, saying it was used jointly by university faculty and administration staff, and that a teaching assistant submitted it to the prosecution voluntarily after taking the university’s position into account.
The investigation which toppled Cho Kuk, previously an outspoken social critic and law professor at Seoul National University, was launched in August 2019 after he was nominated for the post of justice minister by President Moon Jae-in.
Ordered by then-Prosecutor General Yoon Suk-yeol, now the presidential candidate of the main opposition People Power Party, the probe into Cho’s family uncovered scandalous revelations about his family, which included but was not limited to his daughter’s successful application to college and medical school.
The scandal divided the country and sparked massive rallies for and against Cho's nomination to the post. Although Moon refused to withdraw Cho’s nomination, Cho ended up resigning only 35 days after taking up the post.
Cho himself was also indicted on charges in connection with his children's academic credentials and school scholarship, as well as his family's suspicious private equity investments.
As a result of the scandal, Pusan National University announced in August that it would void Cho's daughter Cho Min’s 2015 admission to its Graduate School of Medicine.
The decision was announced after the university’s internal investigation panel conducted its own probe into Cho’s admission process and concluded that Chung had committed multiple counts of fraud to help her daughter’s get in.
BY MICHAEL LEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]