Beleaguered Cho Kuk gets support from unlikely source -- former presidential rivals

Beleaguered Cho Kuk gets support from unlikely source -- former presidential rivals


Justice Minister nominee Cho Kuk, mired in corruption allegations involving his family, is drawing support from an unlikely source: leading liberal figures who might have been rivals in a bid for presidency.

Cho, once considered a likely presidential candidate, faces allegations that range from his daughter’s illicit college admission to shady investment records involving a private equity fund, whose only investors are members of his family.

The allegations have prompted Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl, who took office in July, to launch a criminal investigation.

A sense of betrayal is at the center of growing public backlash against Cho, an outspoken anti-elitist and fierce critic of the previous conservative administration that toppled in the wake of corruption charges against impeached President Park Geun-hye and her confidante Choi Soon-sil. 

Yet, President Moon Jae-in’s controversial Cabinet nominee seems to be enjoying wide intraparty support.

As the media reported on one allegation after another against Cho, liberal figures have rushed to his rescue in the past week, criticizing the media for unfavorable coverage of the nominee.

On Sunday, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon shared what he said was his own experience with “fake news” during his candidacy.

“When I first ran for mayor in 2011, I had to deal with groundless accusations fabricated by the rival candidate,” Park wrote on his Facebook account, dismissing the suspicions against Cho as “fake news.” “Anybody who did a little research would have known they were falsehoods. But the media reported those claims regardless.”

“It is perhaps because the opposition party and certain media outlets fear the judicial reforms nominee Cho Kuk would carry out once he assumes office,” Park said, hailing Cho as “someone our country needs.”

In comments released the same day, the main opposition Liberty Korea Party slammed Park’s statement as a “partisan argument that brands a majority of citizens who oppose Cho’s appointment as anti-reformist.”

The third-term mayor of the capital city is not completely uninvolved in the string of suspicions surrounding Cho, according to Rep. Kwak Sang-do of the Liberty Korea Party.

In 2013, Cho’s then-high schooler son was admitted to Seoul City’s youth council even though he was eliminated in the first round, the opposition lawmaker said.

Gyeonggi Gov. Lee Jae-myung, a onetime presidential hopeful, issued a more strongly worded statement beginning, “Stop the witch hunt.”

In a Facebook post published Friday, Lee said “the circumstances surrounding Cho have reached the apogee of irrationality.”

“If there is anything life has taught me, it is that you’ve got to listen to both sides before you make a judgment,” Lee said, calling the media reports on suspicions involving the nominee and his family “a lopsided attack.”

Rhyu Si-min, a “Roh Moo-hyun man” who chairs a foundation named after the late president, said that deeming Cho unqualified for the job based on suspicions was “anti-intellectualism” and “tyranny.”

Speaking at a concert Saturday, Rhyu, who was Roh’s health and welfare minister, said he knew “what nominee Cho is going through too well.”

“When they lashed out at me, they were lashing out at President Roh,” Rhyu said, suggesting that the controversy has more to do with opposition to the Moon administration than with the nominee himself.

Kim Boo-kyum, a ruling party lawmaker-turned-minister of interior and safety who stepped down from his ministerial post in April, said Thursday the Liberty Korea Party’s demand to have not only the candidate but his family questioned was a way to “apply psychological pressure to spur him into resigning.”

A Realmeter poll published Friday showed 54.3 percent of the respondents were against Cho’s appointment as justice minister, while 42.3 percent were in favor.

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