September 10, 2019 09:56
President Moon Jae-in on Monday appointed Cho Kuk as justice minister despite a snowballing scandal involving nepotism and shady financial dealings that have divided the whole country.
The president in an unusual address to the public claimed Cho's confirmation hearing in the National Assembly, which concentrated on the nepotism scandal, was flawed for political reasons.
"Candidates who have strong reformist tendencies face more difficulties in confirmation hearings," Moon said. "I would like to voice my frustration that this is posing an obstacle in selecting talented candidates and pursuing national unity."
In other words, the appointment had been a fait accompli even before Cho finally faced a parliamentary hearing. Opinion polls also showed a majority opposed to Cho's appointment, which would suggest that his close ties to the president rather than a quest for national unity were behind the appointment.
Moon mentioned no flaws in Cheong Wa Dae's vetting process, which failed to discover any of the allegations that subsequently surfaced. Moon defended his defiance of parliament by saying, "I believed it was more important to uphold principles and consistency. It would set a bad precedent not to appoint an official based solely on suspicions even though no clear offenses have been confirmed."
Prosecutors in previous weeks raided several locations linked to a dubious hedge fund owned by Cho's family, and Cho's wife, a professor at Dongyang University, was indicted on charges of document forgery the same day Cho went through the confirmation hearing. She allegedly forged documents and used personal connections to help their daughter get admission to prestigious schools.
Some prosecutors accused Moon of meddling in their investigations. Regarding allegations of nepotism involving Cho's daughter, Moon said, "I once again felt the relative disadvantage ordinary citizens feel. My heart is heavy."
Students at Seoul National University, Cho's alma mater, held their third candlelight rally protesting against his appointment, with speakers saying "Justice and equality died today in Korea" and demanded he step down.
Liberty Korea Party leader Hwang Kyo-ahn said Cho's appointment was an "act of violence" against the public and democracy. The Bareun Mirae Party issued a statement announcing a concerted move to "oust Cho Kuk in order to reclaim fairness and justice."
Moon also appointed five other new ministers the same day without listening to the results of the confirmation hearing. Now 22 ministers in the Moon administration have been appointed without going through the proper confirmation process.
Less than halfway through his single, five-year term, Moon has already surpassed former presidents Park Geun-hye (10 officials), Lee Myung-bak (17 officials) and Roh Moon-hyun (three officials) when it comes to the number of ministers who were appointed without proper confirmation.
This has raised questions about the effectiveness of the current confirmation process, where lawmakers' powers to call witnesses are limited and their vote is not binding.
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