17.02.2022 Author: Konstantin Asmolov

Two Sentences and One Charge


The closer to the end of Moon Jae-in’s rule, the bolder the judiciary confirms the verdicts and charges personnel from the president’s entourage, and these stories also pour water into the mill of conservatives.

Completion of the Chung Kyung-sim Case

60-year-old Chung Kyung-sim is the wife of ex-Minister of Justice and Senior Secretary of the President for Civil Affairs of the Republic of Korea, Cho Kuk. The affairs around this family have been discussed more than once. The scandal involving the Cho family, considered to be one of Moon’s closest confidants, sharply divided the nation and caused mass rallies both in support of and against Cho’s candidacy for the post of Minister of Justice.  As a result, Cho Kuk took office without parliamentary approval, but resigned 35 days later.

The investigation into Chung Kyung-sim was launched by former Attorney General Yoon Suk-yeol shortly after Cho Kuk was appointed head of the Ministry of Justice, and on September 6, 2019, she was charged.  In December 2020, the Seoul Central District Court sentenced Chung to four years in prison, a fine of 500 million won (USD 436,000) and confiscation of 140 million won. The court found her guilty of forging a presidential award from Dongyang University, where she is a professor, and a separate internship certificate, which she used to enroll her daughter Cho Min in college.

The story of Cho Min was very similar to that of Choi Soon-sil’s daughter, Chung Yoo-ra, who entered a prestigious university on a quota and then did not appear in class, while all the test papers were written for her by the teachers. Still, Chung Yoo-ra was not just a “shaman’s daughter,” as she entered the university under the quota for athletes and won a gold medal at the Asian Games, while Cho Min positioned herself as a gifted child and the author of serious scientific articles that she had written while still at school. When the girl failed her exams, many became suspicious, and it turned out that, although during the two-week internship she mostly washed test tubes and translated from English, through the efforts of her mother, a university professor, she was not just named one of the authors of the article, but the first author, ahead of honored specialists. Numerous letters of recommendation attached in 2013-2014 for Cho Min’s admission (certificates of passing internships in such prestigious institutions as the Seoul National University Human Rights Center, the Research Institute of Biotechnology of Kongju National University, the Research Institute of Medical Sciences of Dankook University, etc.) also turned out to be fake and fabricated with the participation of both Chung Kyung-sim and her husband.

In addition, Chung was convicted of using insider information about WFM, a KOSDAQ-listed battery manufacturing business, to make a profit and open an account under an assumed name to conceal her assets. Other charges included providing false data in an investment agreement and the purchase of shares using undisclosed information.

On July 12, 2021, at the appeal process, prosecutors demanded a seven-year prison sentence for Chung Kyung-sim.

The Blue House tried to counteract this, but on January 27, 2022, the Supreme Court put an end to the Chung Kyung-sim case, effectively finishing off one of the most notorious scandals in South Korea in recent years. The four-year term was ultimately upheld.

Verdict in the Case of Blacklists (nope, not from the Park Geun-hye era)

As the reader may remember, the Park Geun-hye administration notoriously compiled blacklists of cultural figures to be removed from state funding for criticizing the president. This fact is fully proven, and for it, former Chief of Staff Kim Ki-choon and former Minister of Culture and Secretary of the President for Political Affairs Cho Yoon-sun received prison sentences.

But this paragraph is about other lists.  On January 27, 2022, the Supreme Court of South Korea upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal and confirmed the two-year prison sentence for Kim Eun-kyung, the former Minister of Environment of the Moon Jae-in administration accused of abuse of power.

This too was a long story.  Kim headed the ministry from July 2017 to November 2018 and organized a purge in it, forcing 13 heads of state institutions associated with the ministry, who were appointed by the Park Geun-hye administration of, to resign from their posts. Moon’s supporters took their places.

The case came to light in December 2018, when Kim Tae-woo, a former member of the Blue House inspection team, reported on the existence of a blacklist in the Ministry of Environment. At the time, the Blue House strongly denied the allegations, but on February 10, 2021, the Seoul Central District Court found Kim Eun-kyung and former Presidential Secretary for Personnel Affairs Shin Mi-sook guilty of abuse of power. Kim Eun-kyung was sentenced to two and a half years in prison, and Shin Mi-sook received one and a half years of probation.

Throughout the process, the former Minister argued that political purges were inevitable to implement environmental policies of the new administration, and these practices were customary in previous governments. But the court rejected Kim’s arguments stating that “It is an illegal act that must be uprooted.”

After that, the Blue House was able at best to declare that the current administration under President Moon Jae-in has not produced nor operated a discriminatory personnel blacklist, and the use of this term in relation to Kim’s sentence is incorrect.

Kim Won-woong’s Accusations

Whenever NEO tackles the “Neanderthalic anti-Japanism” in South Korea, one particular individual is always mentioned, namely Kim Won-woong, a former MP, the president-appointed head of the semi-governmental organization Heritage of Korean Independence (HKI) and a fighter against collaborators and their descendants.

And on February 4, the police launched an investigation into embezzlement charges brought by a certain civic group against him and two other persons associated with the organization.

Kim Won-woong is facing charges that in 2021, he misappropriated funds totaling 45 million won (USD 37,465) of the business proceeds from a cafe his organization operates inside the National Assembly compound. The Heritage of Korean Independence opened a small coffee shop on the compound of the National Assembly in 2020, as part of a project to fund scholarships for descendants of national independence fighters.  However, Kim allegedly used the money for personal purposes, such as getting a haircut or buying clothes.

Only time will tell how the prosecution will end and how long the judicial red tape will last. Yoon Mee-hyang, the main perpetrator in the “comfort women” scandal, is still a member of the current parliament, and it wasn’t until now that she is going to be purged from the ruling party facing the problems of low approval ratings of the democratic presidential candidate.

Next in line, perhaps, is the former special prosecutor Park Young-soo, who led the investigation against President Park Geun-hye. In the course of the “Seongnamgate”, it was found out for certain that Park was an executive adviser to Hwacheon Daeyu, a company suspected of receiving political favors, which his daughter worked for. There is, however, information, though not yet fully verified, that in addition to high fees, Park, along with former Supreme Court judge Kwon Soon-il (who, incidentally, had acquitted Lee Jae-myung in the case of election laws violation) and several others were promised 50 billion won each in exchange for helping Hwacheon Daeyu in sensitive cases and other lobbying. And this is not the first scandal involving this former special prosecutor.

Not all of these cases will lead to convictions before the elections, but they all form an emblematic background showing how the current South Korean government, leaving the Blue House in 2022, “has caught up with and outdone” those whom it defeated during the Candle Revolution.

Konstantin Asmolov, PhD in History, leading research fellow at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute of the Far East at the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.