Minister of Justice Choo Mi-ae. (Yonhap)
The prosecution is analyzing a recording of a call made to the Ministry of National Defense regarding Minister of Justice Choo Mi-ae’s son as criticism continues to come from both the opposition bloc and the public.
Choo’s son, identified by the surname Seo, served as a member of the Korean Augmentation to the United States Army from 2016-2018. He underwent knee surgery in June 2017 and went on extended leave. The allegations against Choo center on claims that Seo’s leave was extended without following protocol after the deadline had passed for returning to base, and that Choo’s status as the leader of the ruling Democratic Party may have directly or indirectly pressured military officials to bend the rules for her son.
On Tuesday investigators from the Seoul Eastern District Prosecutors’ Office raided a number of locations, including the Defense Ministry’s call center, and reportedly secured audio files of all calls made since 2015.
Although the audio files stored by the call center were deleted, they were found on the military’s main server along with other related information including the callers’ phone numbers, local reports said. Under related regulations, records of calls to the call center are deleted after three years.
The analysis, expected to be completed within the week, will shed light on claims that either Choo or her husband inquired about extending Seo’s leave.
During the interpellation session on Monday, Choo stated that she had not called the Defense Ministry to inquire about extending her son’s leave. When asked whether her husband had made any such call, Choo said she was “not in a position to ask” him because they live apart during the week. Choo’s husband is a lawyer with a firm in North Jeolla Province.
Whether or not Choo or her husband called the Defense Ministry remains to be seen, but the investigators are said to have secured testimony that one of Choo’s former aides called Seo’s base regarding his leave.
Choo declined to comment on the matter, saying only that she had not given instructions to do so.
As the controversy grows, related developments have taken center stage in the National Assembly’s interpellation session, as well as in the confirmation hearing for Defense Minister nominee Suh Wook.
In a separate development, a man who claims to have served with Seo appeared on a local radio show on Wednesday and rebutted the allegations against the justice minister’s son. The man, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Seo was given no preferential treatment during his military service.
By Choi He-suk (firstname.lastname@example.org)