South Korea's Moon names criticised confidant justice minister

Mr Cho Kuk, who served as the administration's first presidential senior secretary for civil affairs, was officially named South Korea's 66th justice minister. He has been accused of corruption and nepotism. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (BLOOMBERG) - South Korean President Moon Jae-in appointed to the position of justice minister a close confidant who faced a grilling in the media and in Parliament over allegations of corruption and nepotism.

Mr Cho Kuk, who served as the administration's first presidential senior secretary for civil affairs, was officially named the nation's 66th justice minister, the Office of the Presidency said on Monday (Sept 9).

Mr Cho has denied the allegations against him.

His nomination galvanised Mr Moon's progressive supporters who see Mr Cho as furthering the President's agenda on transforming the prosecutors' office.

Opponents of the President see Mr Cho as unfit for the job, and view the appointment as a needless diversion at a time when the economy is flagging and Mr Moon is in a bruising trade battle with Japan.

"Candidate Cho has fully explained the allegations that have been ongoing at a briefing with reporters," presidential spokesman Yoon Do-han said in a statement last week after Mr Cho held a news conference that lasted more than 10 hours.

Mr Moon is due to make an address to the nation later on Monday, local TV news station YTN reported.

The appointment as justice minister puts Mr Cho on a collision course with prosecutors who have been looking into the corruption and nepotism allegations.

Mr Moon does not need parliamentary approval to make the appointment.

Among the allegations are that Mr Cho's daughter was able to win admission to a prestigious university after she was credited as a main author of a published scientific paper while a high school student on a brief internship.

Another allegation is that his family made a hefty profit on a questionable investment in a private equity fund.

Mr Cho denied the allegations at the 10-hour news conference and during questioning in Parliament last Friday.

"Personally, I would like to return as a civilian and I'd like to see my family, but I have one more calling as a public official, so I came out to this seat today despite the grievances," he told lawmakers.

In a poll by Real Meter released last Friday, 56.2 per cent of South Koreans respondents opposed appointing Mr Cho, while 40.1 per cent were in favour.

Mr Moon is about midway through his five-year term and the economic outlook has turned gloomy for South Korea's export-dependent economy, which this year is forecast to expand at the weakest pace in a decade.

Making matters worse for Mr Moon is an intensifying trade battle with Japan.

Tokyo has placed export controls on three specialist materials that are crucial for the production of semiconductors and displays by South Korean powerhouses such as Samsung.

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