Scandals Haunt Cho Guk

김민, 서채원, 김민경, 전소영l승인2019.11.19l수정2019.11.19 10:30l374호 1면

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  Cho Guk who was Seoul National University Professor and nominee for Justice Minister is embroiled in a number of controversies that threaten his appointment and are wreaking havoc on the approval ratings of President Moon Jae In. The controversies include the educational privileges his daughter received, in high school and at the university level and questions over his family finances. As a candidate for Minister of Justice, a number of citizens have protested his nomination arguing that he cannot be tasked with corruption reform is he is guilty of taking advantage of privileged access himself.

  Cho’s daughter is suspected of receiving undeserved scholarship for six semesters and attaching her name as lead researcher to a medical thesis when she was a high school student. There were also accusations about her entrance to Han Young Language High School and Korea University without passing any entrance tests or satisfying any specific entry requirements. People also questioned her acceptance to Busan Medical Graduate School after failing the entrance examination. In addition to all the allegations surrounding his daughter, Cho Guk was also entangled with scandals over his personal finances including investments and inheritances.

▲ Busan university student and former student protest against Cho guk justice minister appointment on sep 9 (Photo from Yunhap news)

  President Moon nominated six people for the role of Minister of Justice. While the other candidates are worthy, Cho Guk was seen as the front runner since he is one of the most trusted aides of the president, supporting his run for office as a far back as 2012. Mr. Cho was already the acting minister of Civil Affairs.  Public opinion on his appointment is divided and both sides are petitioning their opinions on the Cheong Wa Dae bulletin board. Support for the appointment of Mr. Cho is represented by a petition entitled, “Cheong Wa Dae must appoint Cho Guk as Minister of Justice!” The petitioner felt that he was the right person to lead in the nation’s justice reforms, stating he is a legal expert who did not take the bar exam and did not go through the prosecutor’s office or the courts, so he can be trusted to create an honest judicial system. However, opponents disagree. One petitioner challenging his nomination said, “I oppose the president's appointment of the senior civil affairs official as Minister of Justice because he is embroiled in too many controversies and is inappropriate for the role of public official and educator, so it is wrong to appoint such a person as Minister of Justice.”

  The nomination Mr. Cho has raised a number of questions within society. According to a September 11 survey of 2,248 respondents on “What does Cho Guk mean to our society?” the political research institute ThinkWhi reported citizens are divided on pros and cons of Cho’s appointment. Respondents in favor of his appointment picked “prosecution reformation (30.9%)” as the most important item on the political agenda, while those against noted an “unbalanced social structure (34.4%)” as the most pressing problem faced by our nation today. This illustrates a divergence of opinions exists on the direction of the country’s affairs. Some believe the nation   should focus on “corruption in the political circle, including Civil Affairs minister Cho Guk,” while other believe it is more important to deal with “the excessive power vested in the office of the prosecution.”

  The ‘Corruption Perception Index’, (CPI) is a scale developed by Transparency International (TI) a private international organization for monitoring corruption that is issued yearly since 1995. To prepare the index, TI analyzes and evaluates surveys conducted by seven independent bodies and ranks nations with a score of 1 to 10 in ten different areas with the highest possible score being 100. The higher score the score was, the greater the level of a nation’s corruption. South Korea’s corruption index score is ranked 45th with a total of 54 points, according to TI’s 2018 CPI report. This was one of the lowest rankings among OECD countries. However, as the controversy of Cho Guk’s nomination to the office of Minister of Justice develops and as the split in votes against the appointment of the justice minister is reduced to a single digit, some people argue that the nation's CPI score will rise in 2019.

  In the meantime, both sides have been active in voicing their position on his appointment. Each side has held candlelight vigils and pro and anti-college students have actively participated in protests and campaigned for their position using social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to spread their messages.

  Various corruption scandals evolved out of the nomination of Cho Guk to the role of Minister of Justice. Citizen movements to stamp out corruption in politics such as the web campaign against his appointment that was uploaded to the Cheong Wa Dae website and the student candlelight vigils held at Seoul National University, Yonsei and Korea University that called on Cho Guk to withdraw his nomination, are all indications that many of our youth are actively engaged in this topic. Students from the protest issued a joint statement calling on other universities to join in their candlelight protest in solidarity. They argued "We cannot entrust the justice of the Republic of Korea to the hands of a minister who is currently being investigated for a number of controversies." Moreover, they want Cho Guk’s daughter’s controversial admission to Busan University annulled.  

  On the other side of the issue, the Korean People's Solidarity for Democracy, the organization known for its rally last August in front of the former Japanese Embassy in Jongno-gu for the statue of a peace girl, are pushing citizens to rally in Seocho-dong in favor of reforming the prosecution office to rid it of its alleged corruption. The objective of the candlelight gathering in Seocho-dong is to call for an end to the serious decomposition of credibility of the prosecutor’s office and to set up a high-ranking official investigation." In addition, they hope the rally will signal a call for our society to be more righteous. So far there have been eight candlelight rallies in favor of reforming the office of the prosecution. Organizers estimate that in time, more and more citizens will gather in support of their cause in Seocho-dong.

  So what is the most appropriate way to address the problems of Cho Guk’s nomination? University students held a rally on October 4th at Marronier Park opposing Cho’s appointment and remain firm on his withdrawal from the nomination list for minister of justice. One student from Dankook University said, "It's a matter of finding a qualified person. If a person who ignored justice in his own personal life is appointed Minister of Justice it sends a clear message that we live in an unjust society." On the other hand, a number of Cho’s supporters held a rally against the unjust and severe treatment of Cho Guk in Seocho-dong. University students who attended this rally said "It is fair to want to investigate the allegations, but in this case the judgment already seems to be severe and unfair." It is clear that University students fall on both sides of the coin, but the only way for anyone to exercise their rights to voice their opinions is to actively engage in the process. Get involved today.

▲ Many people attended a candlelight for the reform of the prosecution in front of the Central District Prosecutors' Office in Seoul.(Photo from Yonhap News)

김민, 서채원, 김민경, 전소영  dankookherald@gmail.com
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