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Top prosecutor reaffirms commitment to reform

Justice Minister Cho’s wife likely to be summoned this week about involvement in relative’s private equity company

Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl said Sunday that the prosecution would fully comply with the Moon Jae-in administration’s push for prosecutorial reform. This is the first official statement from the top prosecutor since the prosecution launched probe into corruption allegations surrounding Justice Minister Cho Kuk’s family in August.

The statement, released by the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office in Yoon’s name, said the prosecution will “dutifully uphold the people’s will and the National Assembly’s decision for reform of the prosecution.”

It also said Yoon has “clearly stated such position numerous times since the confirmation hearing and there is no change in the position.”

On Saturday night, a large candlelight rally supporting Cho and his prosecution reform push took place outside the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office in Seoul. 

A crowd gathers at the prosecution`s headquarters in Seocho, southern Seoul, to show support for Cho and prosecution reform. (Yonhap)
A crowd gathers at the prosecution`s headquarters in Seocho, southern Seoul, to show support for Cho and prosecution reform. (Yonhap)

Numbering some 1.5 million, according to the organizers, the participants called the prosecution’s investigation of Cho’s family a “coup d’etat” and voiced support for his reform proposal. Several ruling Democratic Party lawmakers attended the rally dubbed “Save Cho Kuk” movement.

Another demonstration on the opposite side of the road demanded Cho’s resignation, likening the allegations surrounding his family to the abuse of power scandal that led to the impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye. About 1,000 participated in the anti-Cho rally, according to organizers.

On Friday, President Moon Jae-in issued a statement taking aim at the prosecution’s ongoing probe, delivered in an urgent briefing by Blue House spokesperson Ko Min-jung.

“The prosecution, as an institution which wields direct authority over the people, should be disciplined in its exercise of powers,” the president said. Moon also urged prosecutors to “reflect on the reality of the mounting calls for prosecutorial reform.”

In an unprecedented move, prosecutors raided Cho’s home Sept. 23, a day after Moon left the country for a UN General Assembly meeting and a summit with US President Donald Trump. Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon and top Democratic Party figures condemned the raid, saying it went “over the line.”

Yoon, who is directing the probe into Cho, was once hailed as a hero by liberals for leading the investigation that put former President Park behind bars.

Cho, who has said his mission is to complete the Moon Jae-in administration’s reform of the judiciary, has made it his top agenda item since his first day in office. The Moon Jae-in administration’s reform scheme would adjust the investigative powers of the prosecution and police, giving police greater investigative autonomy, and would establish a separate body to investigate allegations against senior government officials.

A fresh accusation against Cho surfaced last week when it was revealed he had talked with a prosecutor on the scene of the search and seizure operation at his home.

This raised questions about whether Cho, a direct superior to the prosecution, interfering in the ongoing investigation against his family.

During a parliamentary interpellation session Thursday, Cho admitted to the phone conversation with an on-duty prosecutor, saying he believed it was something he could do “as a husband and a father.”

Main opposition lawmakers said the minister’s phone call could be seen as an infraction of the public service ethics law.

Meanwhile, Cho’s wife, Chung Kyung-sim, is likely to be summoned this week for questioning regarding her involvement in the operation of a private equity company owned by a relative. Chung was indicted Sept. 6 on charges of having forged a document to influence her daughter’s admission to medical school. The minister’s daughter and son were questioned twice and once, respectively, in a related probe.

By Kim Arin (