Supreme Court justice claims clean hands in scandal
Supreme Court Justice Cho Jae-youn denied Wednesday that he is the unnamed individual mentioned in a taped conversation central to the Daejang-dong corruption scandal.
In an extremely rare instance of a sitting high court judge publicly denying corruption allegations, Cho spoke at a press conference at the Supreme Court in Seocho District, southern Seoul on Wednesday afternoon to repudiate media reports that he was the recipient of a 5-billion-won ($41 million) residence from Kim Man-bae, owner of the Hwacheon Daeyu asset management, which is at the heart of the scandal.
In a televised campaign debate Wednesday, the ruling party's presidential contender cited media reports to name Cho as the person mentioned on the tapes as having gotten the residence.
In the recordings, which were given to prosecutors in October, Kim can be heard referring to an unspecified individual, whom he called “that person,” as being the real owner of half of Cheonhwa Dongin No. 1, one of Hwacheon Daeyu’s affiliate companies, for whom Kim bought a 5-billion-won residence.
Kim also mentioned that the individual in question served as the chief of the Supreme Court’s administrative affairs department, which led to media reports that he was referring to Cho, who served in that post from January 2019 to May 2021.
On Wednesday, Cho adamantly denied being the person mentioned by Kim, calling media reports to that effect “completely detached from the truth.”
“I've never met Kim Man-bae in either a public or private setting,” Cho said at the press conference, adding, “I haven't met anyone or talked to anyone who is involved in the Daejang-dong case. No one from my family or among my relatives has bought an apartment in Daejang-dong.”
Ever since the existence of the recordings came to light in October, the main opposition People Power Party (PPP) and its presidential candidate, Yoon Suk-yeol, have drummed up the possibility that Kim was referring to Lee Jae-myung, his rival from the ruling Democratic Party (DP).
However, when Yoon aired those allegations at Monday’s televised presidential candidates’ debate, Lee said media reports had confirmed Cho as being “that person” to rebut Yoon’s allegations.
Without naming Lee, Cho said Wednesday that the DP candidate’s mention of his name convinced him to push back publicly against the suspicions that he was involved in the corruption surrounding the Daejang-dong development.
“On Feb. 21, a candidate directly named an incumbent Supreme Court justice [as a supect] in a candidates’ debate that was broadcast live nation-wide,” Cho said. “This is without precedent in our history.”
Cho added that although he considered not issuing a public rebuttal “at such a sensitive time,” he felt compelled to defend the honor of the country’s judiciary.
The Daejang-dong project in Seongnam, Gyeonggi, which was launched in 2015 during Lee's tenure as the city’s mayor, has been hit by allegations that its profit distribution scheme was deliberately skewed to favor Hwacheon Daeyu and its Cheonhwa Dongin affiliates, which held a 1 percent stake in the mixed public-private development consortium.
Since 2019, Hwacheon Daeyu allegedly raked in a profit of 57.7 billion won on an investment of 49.95 million won — a mere 1 percent stake in the project – while the city-owned Seongnam Development Corporation reportedly only received 183 billion won in profits over the past three years, despite holding a 50 percent stake in the project.
Kim has been indicted on charges of bribery and breach of trust in the case and is currently awaiting trial.
BY MICHAEL LEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]