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Disgraced ex-minister to launch new party ahead of election

Former star law professor Cho Kuk announces election run after court ruling of 2-year prison sentence

Feb. 13, 2024 - 15:35 By Jung Min-kyung
Former Justice Minister Cho Kuk announces his plan to launch his own political party at a press briefing at the Democracy Park, in his home city of Busan on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

Disgraced former Justice Minister Cho Kuk on Tuesday officially announced to launch his own political party ahead of the general election scheduled for April 10.

“I plan to fight on the front line of the battle to bring an early end to the incompetent 'dictatorship of prosecutors,' and the restoration of the values of a democratic republic,” Cho said in an announcement made at his hometown of Busan, pointing at the current Yoon Suk Yeol administration.

“I will create a political party that presents alternatives to overcoming our national crisis one step ahead of others without being concerned about popularity, and a political party that mediates conflicts and solves problems rather than politics that exploits conflict,” he added.

Tuesday’s announcement follows the Seoul High Court’s decision last week to uphold a lower court ruling to sentence Cho to two years in prison and a 6 million won ($4,518) fine. The court said Cho showed “no signs of remorse or regret” for his actions, citing his unwillingness to admit any wrongdoing.

The court chose not to imprison Cho immediately.

Cho, 59, a former star law professor at Seoul National University and one of former President Moon Jae-in’s closest aides, revealed his plans to appeal the verdict in a briefing after the ruling Tuesday.

Prior to Cho’s announcement, the ruling People Power Party Interim Chair Han Dong-hoon denounced the announcement as a scheme to dodge detainment or imprisonment.

“I want to question (the timing of Cho’s hints and announcements to run in the upcoming election). Why didn’t he make the moves before the appellate court ruling?” Han told a group of reporters on late Monday.

Early Tuesday, Han also blamed the main opposition party's decision to stick with the current mixed-member proportional representation system as a catalyst for Cho’s decision. The system, which was first adopted ahead of the previous general election in 2020, was criticized for failing to serve its purpose of supporting minor parties. Instead, it gave further leverage to the two major parties, which set up multiple satellite parties.

Ex-Justice Minister Cho Kuk, right, poses for a photo next to former President Moon Jae-in near Moon's residence in a rural village in Pyeongsan-gun, South Gyeongsang Province on Monday. (Yonhap)

“What enables someone like Cho Kuk to become a lawmaker is the current election system adopted and developed by Democratic Party of Korea Chair Lee Jae-myung,” Han said to reporters upon entering the National Assembly.

He argued that the current election system, which could enable Cho to become a lawmaker, fails to reflect the voters’ and the people’s opinions.

Despite his past affiliations with the main opposition party, the Democratic Party ruled out the possibility of a partnership with Cho.

"We would like to make it very clear that it is difficult to consider Cho's new party as a potential partner to achieve victory in the upcoming election," three-term Democratic Party Rep. Park Hong-geun said in a Tuesday Facebook post.

"Cho's involvement in politics and his unilateral move to launch a party will only fuel unnecessary controversy and conflict, alongside more attacks (against the liberal bloc) instead of contributing to the people's success amid a moment of a historic election," he added.

In late 2019, Cho was indicted on a dozen charges, including bribery and document fraud in an attempt to send his son and daughter to a prestigious high school and a medical school here, respectively. The Seoul Central District Court in February last year convicted Cho of forging documents in the scandal and peddling influence to interfere with a corruption probe involving a Moon confidant.

Cho’s wife, Chung Kyung-shim, who colluded with her husband in their children’s school admission scandal, received a one-year jail sentence with a two-year probation in the latest court ruling. The 62-year-old former professor at Dongyang University was recently released from prison on special presidential pardon, after receiving an earlier four-year sentence for separate charges tied to irregularities over family investments.

Cho Kuk’s 32-year-old daughter, Cho Min, had her medical license revoked after both her bachelor’s degree from Korea University and medical degree from Pusan National University were revoked.

Cho Kuk served as justice minister under the liberal Moon administration for only 36 days in October 2019 and stepped down after the scandal broke amid an investigation led by then-Prosecutor General Yoon Suk Yeol's Supreme Prosecutor's Office. He had previously served as Moon's senior presidential secretary for civil affairs from May 2017 to July 2019.

Critics have said that Cho’s scandal helped pave the way for Yoon's rise as president after disillusioning voters of the liberal bloc.