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Seoul education superintendent convicted for unfair hiring

Ruling to unseat Cho unless acquitted in higher court

Jan. 27, 2023 - 17:13 By Son Ji-hyoung
Superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education Cho Hee-yeon (center) speaks to reporters after a district court verdict on Friday. (Yonhap)

Cho Hee-yeon, superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, was given a 1 1/2-year prison sentence suspended for two years for abusing his power in the teacher hiring process.

The conviction will remove Seoul's top education policy decisionmaker from his seat, unless a higher court overturns the decision. In the ruling, Cho's aide was given a 10-month prison term, suspended for two years.

Cho's actions "undermined the transparency in the teacher employment process," which was "disguised as a fair competition," the court ruling read. It, however, indicated that the special treatment of the progressive Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union members was not meant for his personal financial gain.

Despite the ruling, Cho claimed that Seoul's top education office "had maintained fair hiring process that went through rigorous legal advice twice," and was "aimed at cultivating social harmony."

"I find the ruling disappointing in the sense the (motive behind) the indictment against me was unreasonable," Cho told reporters after the ruling, vowing to appeal.

Cho was accused of having intervened in a hiring process in late 2018 that reinstated five teachers including some affiliated to the teachers' labor union.

One of the five hired in the process was found to be Cho's ally in the education superintendent election before the hiring process began. Cho, a progressive education chief, won the election in August to begin his second term as Seoul education chief.

The Board of Audit and Inspection in 2019 accused Cho of alleged violations of the State Public Officials Act based on its findings from the audit.

The investigation into Cho was initiated by the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials in January 2021, but the special entity did not have the power to indict him. Prosecutors in December 2021 indicted Cho for abusing his power to give the five candidates preferential treatment by ordering human resources officials to take on tasks that are outside of their duties, despite internal opposition -- a criminal offence in Korea.

Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education declined to comment on the matter.