SKorea Justice Minister Resigns 10/14 06:21
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- South Korea's justice minister resigned Monday,
citing the political burden of an investigation into alleged financial crimes
and academic favors surrounding his family, a scandal that has rocked Seoul's
liberal government and spurred huge protests.
Cho Kuk has denied wrongdoing. But the law professor who for years
cultivated an anti-elitist reformist image said he couldn't remain a government
minister while ignoring the pain his family was enduring.
Huge crowds of Cho's supporters and critics have marched in South Korea's
capital in recent weeks, demonstrating how the months-long saga over Cho has
deepened the country's political divide.
Cho said in a statement he was offering to resign to reduce the burden on
President Moon Jae-in, whose office later said he accepted Cho's offer.
Cho's resignation came as state prosecutors continued a criminal
investigation into his university professor wife, brother and other relatives
over allegations of dubious financial investments, fraud and fake credentials
for his daughter that may have helped her enter a top university in Seoul and a
medical school in Busan.
"I concluded that I should no longer burden the president and the government
with issues surrounding my family," Cho said in an emailed statement. "I think
the time has come that the completion of efforts to reform the prosecution
would only be possible if I step down from my position."
Moon's liberal Minjoo Party and Cho's supporters, who occupied streets in
front of a Seoul prosecutors office for the fourth-straight weekend Saturday,
have claimed the investigation is aimed at intimating Cho, who has pushed for
reforms that include curbing the power of prosecutors.
South Korea's main opposition party called Cho's resignation offer "too
late" and criticized Moon for causing turmoil with a divisive appointment.
In a meeting with senior aides, Moon said he was "very sorry for
consequentially creating a lot of conflict between the people" over his
hand-picked choice but also praised Cho's "passion for prosecutorial reform and
willingness to calmly withstand various difficulties to get it done."
Moon had stood firmly by Cho, whom he appointed a month ago despite
But the controversy dented the popularity of Moon and his ruling liberal
party in recent polls, an alarming development for the liberals ahead of
parliamentary elections in April.
The conservative Liberty Korea Party criticized Moon for sticking with Cho
for too long.
"Is President Moon Jae-in listening to people's voices only after his and
his ruling party's approval ratings face the danger of a nosedive?" the
conservative Liberty Korea Party said in a statement.
In South Korea, prosecutors have exclusive authority to indict and seek
warrants for criminal suspects and exercise control over police investigative
activities. They can also directly initiate criminal investigations even when
there's no complaint.
Critics say such powers are excessive and have prompted past conservative
governments to use the prosecution as a political tool to suppress opponents
and carry out vendettas.
The controversy over Cho has struck a nerve in a country facing widening
inequality and brutally competitive school environments and has tarnished the
image of Moon, who vowed to restore faith in fairness and justice after
replacing President Park Geun-hye, who was impeached and jailed for corruption.
Recent polls indicate Moon's popularity has sank to the lowest levels since
he took office. In a survey of some 1,000 South Koreans released last Friday by
Gallup Korea, 51% of the respondents negatively rated Moon's performance in
state affairs, compared to 43% who said he was doing a good job. The survey's
margin of error was plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.