South Korea’s embattled justice minister, Cho Kuk, has resigned just 35 days after he was appointed to the ministerial post amid an outcry over alleged admissions favours for his daughter and the alleged involvement of his family in other dubious deals.
His resignation comes just days before his wife, Chung Kyung-sim, a university professor, goes on trial this week on charges of allegedly forging documents to influence their daughter’s admission to medical school.
Chung was indicted on 6 September on charges of fabricating certificates relating to an internship which may have assisted in her daughter’s admission to medical school in 2014. Prosecutors said the indictment schedule was based on the looming statute of limitations expiration date.
The Cho Kuk saga, which is also related to wider allegations of corruption by members of his family, comes in the wake of campus protests and huge street protests by rival pro- and anti-Cho supporters. Hundreds of thousands of Koreans protested in Seoul, with some estimating there were crowds of up to three million on 3 October.
Many said it was the university admissions scandal around Cho’s daughter that particularly incensed them, saying Chung abused the family’s connections and high social status to gain admissions favours for their daughter.
Cho, in a statement on Monday, acknowledged his resignation was due to the intensifying investigation into allegations surrounding his family, particularly his wife and daughter. Now his son has also been questioned by prosecutors on 25 September about internships that may have been falsely documented and used for his applications to prestigious graduate schools in 2017. Cho’s son is currently a graduate student at Yonsei University in Seoul.
Prosecutors were looking at his internship experience at a Centre for Public Interests and Human Rights Laws at Seoul National University (SNU) School of Law, where Cho has been a law professor since 2009. On academic leave since his appointment as justice minister on 9 September, Cho has now returned to his academic post, despite calls by SNU students for him to resign his SNU professorship during his time as justice minister.
According to the university’s regulations, there is no limit to the amount of leave a professor can take when appointed to a government position. They can return if they send a request within 30 days of their public service coming to an end.
Cho’s daughter interned at the SNU centre in 2009, while his son received a certificate saying he had interned at the SNU centre while he was a high school student in 2013.
“Allegations surrounding my family have come from nowhere. For whatever reason, I feel apologetic to the people regarding the ongoing probes into my family – particularly young adults,” Cho said as he resigned on 14 October, adding that he was standing aside to look after his family.
Cho himself has not so far been directly linked to any of the allegations regarding his daughter’s admissions.