Asia Pacific / Politics

South Korean reporters grill embattled justice minister nominee during 11-hour marathon news conference

AFP-JIJI

A would-be justice minister in South Korea facing allegations of hypocrisy and favoritism involving his family has held a marathon 11-hour news conference in a bid to salvage his sinking reputation and nomination.

A liberal darling with an impeccable resume, law professor Cho Kuk was named last month by President Moon Jae-in, himself a former human rights lawyer, to lead the justice ministry.

A smooth confirmation was expected at first, with pundits noting the position could serve as a springboard to a presidential candidacy.

But the process became a partisan battleground with questions over his daughter’s schooling, and relatives’ investment in a private equity fund suspected of dubious operations.

Cho bowed in apology and sat down to face around 300 reporters at 3:30 p.m. on Monday after a scheduled parliamentary confirmation hearing was canceled due to political disagreements over the witness list.

The news conference did not finish until 2:16 a.m. Tuesday.

Cho was slammed for hypocrisy when it emerged he had sent his daughter to the kind of elite high school he had criticized and she had appeared to benefit from family connections.

South Korea is an intensely competitive society where learning is seen as vital to social and professional prospects and Cho had said such schools led to a “more unfair society.”

Cho admitted his words and actions were inconsistent, telling reporters he had “caused disappointment to young people.”

But he maintained he and his family had done “nothing illegal” and refused opposition demands that he withdraw from consideration.

“While I am battered (with accusations), I will do everything I can (to be confirmed),” he said.

As the encounter stretched into the early hours — there was a dinner break and other pauses — the 54-year-old’s supporters circulated images of reporters looking drowsy and condemning those they felt had asked “cheap” questions.

Score-settling is ingrained in the South’s winner-takes-all political system, with every one of the country’s living former presidents either currently in prison or convicted of crimes after leaving office.