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Justice minister nominee’s 2017 investment agreement sparks new questions

Justice Minister nominee Cho Kuk, ex-senior presidential secretary on civil affairs, faced new controversy on Friday over a 2017 investment agreement signed by his family that exceeds their total wealth.

Justice Minister nominee Cho Kuk (center), ex-senior presidential secretary on civil affairs, answers reporters’ questions as he enters the parliamentary preparation team’s office in Jongno, central Seoul, Friday morning. Yonhap
Justice Minister nominee Cho Kuk (center), ex-senior presidential secretary on civil affairs, answers reporters’ questions as he enters the parliamentary preparation team’s office in Jongno, central Seoul, Friday morning. Yonhap

Cho’s wife and his two children had agreed to invest a total of 7.4 billion won ($6.1 million) won in a private equity fund in 2017, two months after Cho was named presidential secretary on civil affairs.

The figure exceeds Cho’s family wealth, reported to amount to 5.6 billion won, raising questions about how they had planned to obtain the additional 1.8 billion won and how his two children in their 20s were able to invest 355 million won each.

“The parliamentary hearing is coming up, so I will answer (questions) honestly in detail at the National Assembly,” Cho said Friday at his office in Jongno, central Seoul.

“I am well aware of the various criticism and doubts the media has about me,” Cho added.

Apart from his family’s wealth, Cho’s past ties to a left-leaning group in the 1990s have come under intense scrutiny.

President Moon Jae-in tapped him to lead the Justice Ministry earlier in the month, a decision vehemently contested by the main opposition Liberty Korea Party.

“The law regulates government officials and their families from (directly investing in) stocks, but there is no regulation on (indirect investment in) funds,” the team preparing for Cho’s parliamentary hearing said.

“His spouse invested in the legally permitted fund with the money gained from selling their stock, in line with the law on ethics for public officials, after the candidate became a government official,” it added.

Cho also faces suspicions of having sold an apartment in Busan owned by his spouse in November 2017, when he served as the presidential secretary on civil affairs, to his then-sister-in-law to evade controversy over owning multiple homes.

Cho Kuk’s parliamentary preparation team denied allegations that the deal was improper, saying, “There are detailed statements of the deal and the apartment was sold to an acquaintance.” 

By Kim Bo-gyung (lisakim425@heraldcorp.com)
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