By Sangmi Cha
SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean prosecutors indicted former Justice Minister Cho Kuk on Tuesday on a dozen charges including bribery, two months after he resigned over a scandal involving family investment and university admissions for his children.
The accusations are a setback for President Moon Jae-in after the liberal leader named Cho, a former top aide, to the cabinet post to lead reform of the prosecutors’ office, which critics saw as being susceptible to political pressure.
The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office indicted Cho and his wife on Tuesday morning over family investment and use of their position to gain the admissions for the children, it said in a statement.
Cho faces a dozen charges, ranging from bribery and document fraud to manipulation of evidence and violations of public service ethics law, it added.
Together with his wife, Chung Kyung-shim, he is being prosecuted for falsifying documents regarding family investments and efforts to gain university admissions.
Cho will remain free as he stands trial. Chung, who is also a university professor, was arrested in October on the same charges.
Cho’s lawyer, Kim Chil-joon, did not immediately respond to telephone calls or a text message to seek comment.
The Yonhap news agency quoted him as saying the prosecutors had handed down “a political indictment based on their imagination and fiction”.
Moon’s office called the investigation result “meager” and said it would deepen people’s distrust of the prosecutors.
“The investigation shook the president’s authority,” said Yoon Do-han, Moon’s press secretary. “The result raised questions about the intent of the investigation.”
Cho’s resignation and indictment were a spectacular downfall for the former star legal scholar known for progressive thinking who was one of Moon’s closest political allies and viewed by some as a potential presidential successor.
Moon came to power in 2017, promising to clean up corruption after weeks of large street protests led to the impeachment of predecessor Park Geun-hye.
Cho stepped down in October after just one month in office, saying the graft scandal around his family had become a political burden for Moon’s government.
His appointment was followed by street protests for and against the president on a scale not seen since 2017, hitting Moon’s public support ratings.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Jack Kim and Clarence Fernandez)