|President Moon Jae-in poses with Justice Minister Cho Kuk at Cheong Wa Dae, Monday, after giving him a letter of appointment. Yonhap|
President defends Chos' 'innocence' in public address
By Do Je-hae
President Moon Jae-in appointed Cho Kuk as justice minister, Monday, defying the mounting calls to cancel the nomination over allegation of corruption scandal involving the former presidential aide and his family members. The appointment comes a month after Cho was named to the post in an Aug. 9 Cabinet reshuffle.
The Sept. 6 indictment of Cho's wife on the charge of document forgery to facilitate their daughter's university admission was not enough to overturn the President's determination to appoint him to the post charged with judiciary reform. In a rare public address after handing out the official letters of appointment to Cho and five other ministerial-level officials, Moon explained why Cho had to be appointed and asked the public for their understanding and support for reforming a "powerful institution," particularly the prosecution, which has been criticized for exercising too much power and authority.
The appointment came despite the prosecution investigation into the suspicion that Cho's wife fabricated a university certificate to aid their daughter's admission into a prestigious university. The allegation caused a public uproar, particularly among people in their 20s and 30s, toward Cho and the Moon administration amid the widening social divide.
"I have made clear the reasons for selecting Cho to wrap up the reform of the judiciary. I do not think that determination has to be struck down," Moon said. The President stressed once again that the former senior presidential secretary for civil affairs was the timely choice to reform the prosecution, a key election pledge made by Moon. "One of my most important campaign pledges was to reform powerful institutions, and this gained the people's support."
The remarks showed that his trust in the nominee remains unchanged despite the mounting public doubt over Cho's suitability to carry out the duties of justice minister. In particular, Moon underlined cancelling the nomination could not be justified when the suspicions about Cho's "unlawful activities" had not been confirmed. "It will leave a bad precedent not to appoint someone with the proper qualifications, when there is no clear violation of the law," Moon said. The President added that he was "deeply concerned" about the intense division of Korean society over the appointment of Cho, with his wife being indicted. "But I felt that it was more important to adhere to principles and consistency."
Moon said he was aware of the public concerns about whether a justice minister whose wife was undergoing an investigation by the prosecution would be able to properly carry out the task. "The prosecution has already shown its undoubted determination for a thorough probe," Moon said. "If the prosecution does its job and the minister performs his duty, then they will be able to clearly show the way forward for the reform of a powerful institution and the advancement of democracy."
Monday's decision marks yet another case in which the President has appointed a minister without the National Assembly's confirmation report. Although Moon apologized to the public about this, he also blamed the Assembly's confirmation proceedings particularly for "reformed-minded" figures who come from outside the public sector. Among the seven nominees, the only one that gained a confirmation report was a first vice minister of the agricultural ministry who was being promoted to minister. "Reformist nominees are having a particular difficulties with the confirmation hearing under my administration," Moon said. The President has been criticized for appointing 16 ministerial-level officials without Assembly approval.
Moon also called for reform of the education sector, apparently in reference to the loopholes in university admission proceedings highlighted by the alleged preferential treatment Cho's daughter received due to her parent's social status.