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Moon likely to take time to determine whether to appoint justice minister nominee

President Moon Jae-in will likely spend more time determining whether to appoint his embattled justice minister nominee, a presidential official said Sunday, suggesting the appointment could be delayed further amid mounting demands from the opposition party to withdraw the nomination.

Moon was widely expected to officially name his new justice minister over the weekend.

President Moon Jae-in (Yonhap)
President Moon Jae-in (Yonhap)

Cho Kuk, a law professor and former senior presidential adviser for civilian affairs, was nominated as justice minister last month, a move seen as part of Moon’s push to reform the prosecution to guarantee its political neutrality and grant more investigative power and authority to police.

After a delay, Cho’s confirmation hearing was held Friday, where he was grilled for a string of allegations of misdeeds involving his family until midnight, ranging from preferential treatment for his daughter in admissions to prestigious schools to his family’s dubious investment in a private equity fund.

Suspicion arose recently that his wife, a college professor, may have fabricated a school president’s certificate of recognition for her daughter’s voluntary work at the school’s English education center. She was indicted over suspicions of forging documents Friday night, when her husband‘s confirmation hearing was underway.

Cho has denied all wrongdoings and suspicions. But the main opposition Liberty Korea Party is saying that his explanation was not enough to clarify suspicions, demanding Moon withdraw his nomination immediately.

“(President Moon) will likely spend today getting advice in and out of the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae,” a Cheong Wa Dae official said on condition of anonymity, raising speculation that the decision would not be announced Sunday.

Another Cheong Wa Dae official urged caution, saying it has not been determined if and when the appointment would be announced.

As the president is likely to take some time to mull over the issue, the appointment could be further delayed.

Cho’s nomination has sparked not just partisan bickering but also a rare clash between the presidential office and the prosecution.

The prosecution has been intensifying its probe into allegations surrounding Cho, carrying out raids on locations related to his family members.

The swift action, however, has raised eyebrows among some government officials and ruling party lawmakers, who criticized the prosecution for trying to affect the confirmation hearing.

The prosecution and the presidential office clashed last week, with the former demanding no outside interference with its ongoing investigation and the latter claiming no such intervention has taken place.

Observers say that Cho’s appointment would deepen parliamentary bickering, as the opposition party is now threatening a large protest against the government.

Liberty Korea Party Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn warned against Moon going ahead with his appointment of Cho despite public uproar, saying it could hasten the end of his administration.

“We strongly urge the president to drop his nomination of Cho Kuk even right now. This is an ultimatum,” Hwang told a meeting with other party members. “He has to look squarely at the fact that the public anger against Cho Kuk has boiled over and is now being directed at President Moon.”

A poll showed that nearly half of those surveyed objected to Cho’s appointment as justice minister.

According to the poll conducted by Hankook Research on 1,003 adults aged 19 or older a day after the confirmation hearing, 49 percent said they opposed Cho’s appointment, while 37 percent said they were in favor of it.

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, with a confidence level of 95 percent. (Yonhap)