September 03, 2019 13:12
Justice minister nominee Cho Kuk denied all allegations against him in a snowballing scandal at an impromptu press conference Monday that he called at the National Assembly.
The main opposition Liberty Korea Party in turn abandoned demands for Cho's family members appear as witnesses in any confirmation hearing he may yet brazen out.
Cho claimed he was "unaware" of the irregularities surrounding his daughter's university admissions, scholarships and inclusion at a teenager among the lead authors of a medical research paper when she was just a two-week intern. He also claimed no knowledge of any irregularities involving a capital fund owned by his wealthy family.
Regarding the research paper, Cho admitted it was "a bit strange" that his daughter's name was listed prominently among the authors. "Even I don't know how she became the lead writer," he said. But he added, "My daughter worked amazingly hard. I think she contributed significantly in organizing the results of the research into English."
Commenting on how his daughter managed to bag an W8 million scholarship intended for disadvantaged students while attending Seoul National University for a year, Cho said, "I don't know who applied for the scholarship (US$1=W1,214)." He added, "She was informed by the alumni association that she was selected [for the scholarship], but did not know why."
Cho also claimed to have been "unware of the details" of his family's equity fund and "not involved in it in any way." A distant nephew was found to be the owner of the fund, and Cho said, "I have no idea what role he played."
The nominee stressed his preternatural ignorance of anything that went on under his nose no fewer than 50 times. He added he intends to keep it that way, saying, "If I am appointed minister, I will instruct [prosecutors] not to report to me about the investigations into my family."
Cho also vowed not to pursue any public office other than justice minister. Yet when asked if he is willing to step aside voluntarily, he said, "This is not a choice I can easily make by myself."
The opposition, which has so far held up a confirmation hearing, was up in arms. Liberty Korea Party lawmaker Na Kyung-won said, "This kind of self-organized hearing completely undermines the authority of the National Assembly."
Bareun Mirae Party spokesperson Kim Su-min said Cho's press conference "sets a fresh precedent in the abuse of power." And Party for Democracy and Peace lawmaker Chung Dong-young said Cho "disrespects the public," while Justice Party spokesperson Yoo Sang-jin said, "No press conference can replace a confirmation hearing."
Prosecutors have already raided several locations related to the scandal, but President Moon Jae-in apparently intends to push ahead with Cho's appointment.
Attending reporters were also unconvinced. Some demanded that Cho disclose related financial records and subject himself to a more comprehensive grilling in the presence of witnesses.
One reporter asked, "Are you willing to hold another press conference after allowing reporters to select witnesses if you think this one failed to answer suspicions?" Cho, a former presidential secretary for civil affairs, visibly bristled. "Press conferences do not entail the right to choose witnesses. I am aware of that and I believe reporters are also aware of that fact."
Minjoo Party spokesman Hong Ik-pyo, who moderated the event, said, "This is not a confirmation hearing. No evidence can be submitted."
Cho claimed he was forced to call the press conference because his confirmation hearing was blocked. But he added, "Financial records are matters that should be shared with members of the hearing, not with the press."
Hong handpicked the reporters who got shot at asking questions. They were only allowed one question each, so follow-up questions were impossible.
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