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Ex-justice minister sentenced 2 years for forging kids' admission documents, abuse of power

Former minister says he will appeal and continue fight against politically motivated prosecution

Feb. 3, 2023 - 16:26 By Son Ji-hyoung
Former Justice Minister Cho Kuk speaks to reporters after a ruling at the Seoul Central District Office on Friday. (Yonhap)

Cho Kuk, a former justice minister and close aide of former President Moon Jae-in, was sentenced two years in prison Friday for forging his daughter's credentials which helped her get admitted to medical school.

He was also found guilty of abusing his power when he was senior presidential secretary for civil affairs. The court ruled him guilty of using his power to interfere in a probe into bribery allegations against another Moon aide, as well as illegally taking 6 million won ($4,800) from a professor in the form of a scholarship for his daughter. Cho was also convicted of submitting forged documents that falsely stated his son attended an internship which helped him gain admission to a prestigious university.

But Cho was acquitted of the other nine charges against him, including bribery, concealment and destruction of evidence regarding a private fund backed by Cho’s family.

Prosecutors had sought a five-year prison sentence, a 12 million won fine and an additional 6 million won penalty.

Cho was not immediately sent to prison after the ruling.

He told reporters after the ruling that he would appeal the sentence and continue to fight, calling the prosecution politically motivated.

The court cited the gravity of Cho's crime in its ruling, saying he had abused his power for several years to fake documents for his children and stressing his reputation as a law professor.

He "severely damaged social trust in the college admissions system," the court stated.

Cho's daughter was admitted to Pusan National University School of Medicine in 2015, and his son was accepted to Yonsei University for graduate studies in 2017.

The prosecution alleged that a medical school scholarship was granted to Cho’s daughter as a bribe to Cho, who was senior presidential secretary for civil affairs at the time.

The court did not recognize the payment as a bribe, but ruled it a violation of anti-corruption legislation known as the Kim Young-ran Law.

Cho was also convicted of abuse of power, with the court ruling that he had interfered in the bribery corruption probe surrounding Moon's close aide Yoo Jae-soo. Yoo, who was Busan's former vice mayor for economic affairs, was later handed a suspended sentence for bribery.

But Cho was found not guilty of having helped his family’s private banker destroy evidence in an investigation into a private equity fund owned by Cho’s family, which he used to hide his wealth and falsify his disclosure of assets as a public official.

In January last year, the Supreme Court sentenced Cho's wife, former Dongyang University professor Chung Kyung-shim, to four years in jail and a fine of 50 million won for document forgery and destruction of evidence related to her daughter’s college admissions documents. Chung was also found guilty of embezzlement. Their daughter's college admission was canceled amid the corruption row.

Cho was a longtime outspoken liberal law professor at Seoul National University until he was appointed as senior presidential secretary for civil affairs upon the inauguration of former President Moon Jae-in. He served in the role for two years until July 2019.

A few months later, Cho was appointed justice minister in August 2019 to lead the administration's prosecution reform drive to reduce prosecution powers. He took office in September 2019, but stepped down about a month into his tenure over the series of allegations that led to his indictment by prosecutors.

Following Cho's brief tenure, his successor Choo Mi-ae went on to lock horns with prosecutors and then Prosecutor General Yoon Suk Yeol over the need of prosecution reform.

Choo in November 2020 suspended Yoon -- promoted to be the nation's top prosecutor by then President Moon -- in an unprecedented move. A year later, Yoon became the conservative party’s presidential candidate and won the election in March 2022.