Courts Blocks Trawl Through Cho Kuk's Family Bank Accounts

  • By Yoon Ju-heon

    October 14, 2019 12:38

    Courts have rejected requests by prosecutors to comb through the bank accounts of Justice Minister Cho Kuk, his wife and family and appear to be stalling other avenues of investigation.

    Prosecutors have been investigating their new boss and his family for corruption and other charges for over 40 days but have not been able to establish a paper trail through their bank accounts. Among other things the family stand accused of dubious investments through a hedge fund they own.

    Courts have also blocked prosecutors from accessing to their mobile phone records. Prosecution insiders worry that the courts have fallen in line with the government, which desperately wants the investigation to go away.

    According to legal sources, prosecutors have sought several warrants to investigate the bank accounts of Cho's wife, Chung Kyung-shim, and their children, but all were rejected by judges.

    A source said, "It is crucial to search through the bank accounts to track the flow of funds Cho's family invested, but all warrants were rejected."

    Justice Minister Cho Kuk's wife Chung Kyung-shim (right) moves a computer out of her office at Dongyang University with her financial adviser on Sept. 1, in this grab from CCTV footage.

    Prosecutors are also investigating irregularities in the finances of an educational foundation the family runs. Cho and his wife apparently invested W2 billion into the hedge fund (US$1=W1,187).

    Now investigators are zeroing in on suspicions that Cho's wife received a portion of the W7.2 billion a distant cousin of her husband's is suspected of embezzling from the fund.

    But a senior court source said, "Authorizations of search warrants face stricter guidelines" since former Supreme Court Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae was indicted for abusing his power to manipulate high-profile cases to curry favor with then-President Park Geun-hye.

    But one lawyer who used to be a prosecutor said, "It is difficult to understand why such strict standards are being applied to Minister Cho's family even though searches of bank accounts don't raise particularly grave concerns of invasion of privacy," which the courts cited in this case.

    Another baffling rejection was of the seizure of Cho's wife's computer and phones even though Chung had a staffer of a brokerage replace the hard disc on her personal computer at home and spirited her desktop out of her office at Dongyang University.

    One lawyer said, "When such developments occur, it's standard for judges to authorize a mobile phone search. It's hard to see why a warrant to seize Chung's mobile phone was rejected when she is obviously trying to destroy evidence."

    Earlier this month, a judge also declined an arrest warrant sought for Cho's brother, who faces charges of taking hundreds of millions of won in exchange for hiring a teacher to work for Cho's educational foundation.

    Another lawyer said, "We don't know what other motives the courts may have, but there is a strong impression that they're trying to protect the justice minister."

    Meanwhile, prosecutors questioned Chung again on Saturday, the fourth time she has been interviewed, though she has reportedly been giving an easy riding citing mysterious dizzy spells whenever uncomfortable questions cropped up.

    She faces charges ranging from forging documents to finagle her daughter's admission to prestigious schools to violating laws on financial investments and attempting to destroy evidence.

    Prosecutors plan to seek an arrest warrant for her later this week and reapply for an arrest warrant for the minister's brother, who is accused of embezzlement and corruption in the family's school foundation.

    So far Cho himself has displayed a Teflon hide, mysteriously protected by President Moon Jae in the face of massive public outrage that has hurt his own approval rating.

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