Disgraced ex-South Korean minister gets two years’ jail over graft scandal

Former justice minister Cho Kuk arriving at the Seoul Central District Court in South Korea on Friday. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SEOUL - A disgraced former South Korean politician, Cho Kuk, was sentenced to two years in prison on Friday for forging documents to facilitate his children’s school admissions in a scandal that has deepened political divides and frustrated many young voters.

A star law professor, Cho was a key aide to former president Moon Jae-in and briefly served as a justice minister before resigning and being indicted on a dozen charges, including bribery and document fraud, in late 2019.

The Seoul Central District Court convicted Cho of falsifying documents to send his son and daughter to prestigious high schools and universities, and peddling influence to interfere with a corruption investigation involving a confidant of Mr Moon.

Cho’s downfall dealt a stinging blow to Mr Moon’s progressive Democratic Party amid voter disillusionment over intensifying inequality and growing calls for fairness.

It eventually led to the rise of incumbent President Yoon Suk-yeol who, as then Prosecutor-General, investigated Cho and other graft scandals.

Cho, who has denied any wrongdoing, said he would appeal.

“I humbly accept the verdict and I will fight for my innocence in the parts where I was found guilty in the appeals court in a more sincere and honest manner,” he told reporters after the ruling.

The court said Cho colluded with his wife, Chung Kyung-shim, also a university professor, in manipulating documents to get their son into a specialised high school and a law school, and their daughter into a medical school. Chung has already received a four-year sentence over those charges and irregularities over family investment.

The court also imposed fines of 6 million won (S$6,400), which it said Cho had taken from his daughter’s medical school as bribes in the form of a scholarship.

“He had repeatedly committed crimes of corruption in college admissions for his children for several years using his position as a university professor, so the motive and nature of the crimes are bad, and they seriously undercut social trust in the fairness of the college entrance system,” the court said in the ruling.

Cho also faces “heavy liabilities” for abusing his authority as a senior presidential officer to block a normal inspection into suspected misconduct “at the request of the political circle”, the court said.

The court did not immediately imprison Cho, citing the completion of investigations and Chung serving her prison term. REUTERS

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