Arrest warrant sought for Cho’s spouseProsecutors Monday asked a local court to issue a warrant to detain Chung Kyung-sim, wife of former Justice Minister Cho Kuk, to investigate her in relation to her daughter’s admission to medical school and alleged corruption in managing the family’s wealth.
The Special Investigation Department II of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said it asked the Seoul Central District Court Monday morning to issue the warrant.
Eleven charges against Chung were listed in the application, the prosecution said.
The court will schedule a warrant hearing this week and as early as tomorrow. Chung has hired a team of elite lawyers, and it remains to be seen if she will attend the hearing.
The prosecution listed four charges against Chung, a professor at Dongyang University, over suspected admissions fraud for her daughter, Cho Min.
Chung was already charged last month for a forgery charge linked to her daughter’s academic career. She was accused of having forged a Dongyang University presidential award for Cho Min, currently a student at Pusan National University’s (PNU) medical school. Cho Min included the award in her application for the school in 2014.
On Monday, the prosecution said Chung was suspected of using forged documents from private institutions, including the Dongyang University award, for her daughter’s applications.
The prosecution also accused Chung of using forged public documents. She allegedly played a key role in getting falsified internship certificates for her daughter from the state-run Korea Institute of Science and Technology and the Center for Public Interests and Human Rights Law of Seoul National University (SNU).
Cho Kuk is a professor of law at SNU.
Chung was also accused of obstructing admissions processes of public schools - SNU and PNU - and private schools, including Ewha Womans University, as forged documents were submitted as part of her daughter’s applications.
According to the warrant application, Chung also listed her daughter as a research assistant for an education center for the gifted children at Dongyang University, a program she headed at the time, to embezzle state funds. Chung allegedly embezzled 1.6 million won ($1,365).
The rest of the charges on the warrant application concerned Chung’s alleged management of the family wealth.
The prosecution accused Chung of embezzling over 1 billion won in collusion with her husband’s first cousin. She was also accused of having violated the Financial Investment Services and Capital Markets Act by influencing the operation of a private equity fund the family had invested in and intervening in the management of companies that received investments from the fund.
During a separate but related probe into the private equity fund, the Seoul Central District Court last month granted a warrant to detain Cho’s first cousin, making him the first person in the Cho family to face pretrial detention.
He was charged earlier this month with a series of alleged financial crimes involving the private equity fund.
According to the prosecution, Chung was suspected of making a false report to financial authorities after her investment in the private equity fund and having used inside information when she managed the investments.
Chung was also accused of ordering her private banker, Kim Gyeong-rok, to conceal evidence by tampering with computers at her office and home.
The prosecution has questioned Chung seven times since Oct. 3. She reportedly denied most of the allegations.
After Cho’s resignation from the justice minister post last week, Chung’s health became an issue. According to Chung’s lawyers on Oct. 15, she was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor and exhibited symptoms of a stroke. To postpone a round of questioning, Chung submitted on Oct. 15 a document to the prosecution from an orthopedic clinic with that diagnosis, but prosecutors said it was insufficient. She attended two more rounds of questioning last week.
Prosecutors have asked Chung to submit data to verify her illness, including brain scans and the names of the hospital and doctor who made her diagnosis, but she has not complied.
The prosecution’s decision to seek pretrial detention of Chung indicates that it believes she is healthy enough to undergo questioning under detention.
Criminal lawyers said the charges against Chung in the warrant application showed that the next target will be Cho.
“It is the natural flow of an investigation that Cho will be summoned and questioned next,” said a lawyer who used to serve as head of a district prosecutors’ office.
According to the sources, Cho could be linked to the alleged forgery of his daughter’s internship certificate from SNU.
Cho could also be implicated in evidence destruction, the sources said. The prosecution already obtained testimony from Chung’s private banker, Kim Gyeong-rok, that Cho was at home when he replaced the hard disk of a computer located in Cho’s library in late August. “Thank you for helping my wife,” Kim quoted Cho as saying.
Prosecutors also suspect that Cho could have been involved with the controversial private equity fund.
Although Cho has claimed that he had no knowledge of the investments because they were in a blind trust, the prosecution suspect otherwise.
Prosecutors said earlier that an asset management report from the fund did not include a “blind trust” clause but was later revised at the request of Chung. The prosecution suspects that Cho, in cooperation with Chung, was responsible for the revision of the report.
When the revised report was delivered to their house, Cho received it in person, sources familiar with the probe earlier said, and the delivery took place sometime after he was nominated to become justice minister on Aug. 9 and before he was formally appointed to the post on Sept. 9.
Cho has denied all allegations. He has said his daughter actually worked as an intern at SNU. He also said he thanked the private banker without any special intention and that he never asked for the private equity fund report to be revised.
The prosecution claims there is scant evidence of Cho Min’s internship activity at SNU. “Based on the circumstantial evidence revealed so far, there is a high possibility that the prosecution will see Cho as a co-conspirator of Chung’s,” Kim Jeong-cheol, a criminal lawyer at Wooree Law, told the JoongAng Ilbo Monday.
“The prosecutors will highly likely summon Cho for questioning and also try to detain and prosecute him,” said a lawyer who used to be a senior prosecutor. “The prosecution would have not started this investigation if it was not to go after Cho.”
If Chung is detained, she will be the second person to face pretrial detention among the Cho family members.
Earlier this month, prosecutors tried unsuccessfully to detain Cho’s younger brother over a series of corruption charges involving the Ungdong School Foundation, owned and operated by the Cho family.
The Seoul Central District Court dismissed the warrant request, saying the allegations against him were “open to doubt” and enough evidence had already been collected. The court also cited the younger Cho’s poor health condition in explaining why they decided not to detain him.
The prosecution said it will question the younger Cho again on Monday and soon file another warrant application.
BY SER MYO-JA, PARK TAE-IN [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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