Presidential aide indicted in Cho Kuk scandal resigns

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Presidential aide indicted in Cho Kuk scandal resigns

Choe Kang-wook, a presidential aide indicted for allegedly helping former Justice Minister Cho Kuk’s son apply to law schools by issuing false internship certificates, said Monday he will resign from the powerful Blue House post.

Choe, presidential secretary for civil service discipline, posted a statement on his Facebook to announce his decision to step down. “For the sake of the Moon Jae-in administration’s success and to protect the president, I decided that I must no longer burden the president by keeping the job inside [the Blue House],” Choe wrote.

He wrote that he will resign because he is facing a criminal trial, due to the prosecution’s decision to “railroad” an indictment against him. The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office’s anticorruption department II indicted Choe on Jan. 23 on a charge of issuing false internship certificates to Cho’s son in 2017. At the time, Choe was a lawyer at a law firm in southern Seoul. Choe joined the Blue House in September 2018, when Cho was the senior presidential secretary for civil affairs. Choe and Cho both studied law at Seoul National University.

According to the indictment paper, Choe handed over the false certificates to Cho’s wife, Chung Kyung-sim. “I hope these documents help your son’s admission,” he reportedly told Chung.

Cho’s son used the fake certificates for his applications to law schools, but failed to get in. After graduating from George Washington University in Washington, D.C., Cho’s son is now studying political science at Yonsei University.

Choe’s trial will start on April 21 at the Seoul Central District Court.

In his resignation announcement, Choe stressed that his decision was to protect Moon from his political foes. “Activities of a certain group, which tried to undo the order of the candlelight protesters, are escalating to point a dagger at the president,” he wrote. “I cannot turn away from it. I cannot close my eyes to a conspiracy to rewind history.”

Choe has been insisting that he was a scapegoat since the prosecution started the probe. “Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl and his allies are ignoring a legitimate process and abusing the system,” he said in a statement immediately after the indictment. “In the future, their criminal activities will be laid bare by the new investigation agency for senior public servants.”

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party, the predecessor of the United Future Party, said Choe’s statement shows why the Moon administration was obsessed with passing the law to form the new investigation agency. It also demanded Choe’s immediate resignation, because it was unfair for a criminal suspect to work in the Blue House.

Politicians have begun speculating after his abrupt resignation. “The prosecution indicted him, although charges are not clear,” a lawmaker of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) told the JoongAng Ilbo. “He, therefore, had no reason to quit. If you step down just because you were indicted, the people would assume that you were admitting the charges. So, he probably waited and then resigned.”

Park Sang-byung, professor of the Graduate School of Policy Science at Inha University, analyzed that Choe stepped down because he could be a political burden to the DP ahead of the April 15 general elections.

The conspicuous timing of Choe’s resignation fueled speculation that he is preparing a bid for the general elections. Monday is the deadline for public servants to resign to run as proportional candidates.

In his announcement for the resignation, Choe included several expressions that hint at his ambition for a political career. “Members of the Moon administration seemed to believe that they have advantages in battles against the prosecution or in trials when they become lawmakers,” said Kim Hyung-joon, a political science professor at Myongji University. “I believe Choe will run.”

If Choe runs, he will likely run as a candidate of the DP’s satellite party or Open Democrats, a new political party for proportional representation, created by former Rep. Chung Bong-ju and independent lawmaker Sohn Hye-won.

BY SER MYO-JA, YOON SUNG-MIN [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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