An embattled law professor began his duty as South Korea’s justice minister after receiving presidential approval on Monday, despite an ongoing probe by state prosecutors into alleged misconduct by his wife.
Cho Kuk was appointed to the role by President Moon Jae-in, the presidential Blue House said, with a mandate to reform the prosecutor’s office.
Liberal darling Cho was named last month by the president — himself a former human-rights lawyer — as a nominee to lead the ministry.
But the confirmation process became a partisan battleground when questions were raised over Cho’s daughter’s schooling and his relatives’ investment in a private equity fund suspected of dubious operations.
Officials from the prosecution office that Cho is to lead have carried out multiple raids over the past two weeks linked to the scandals.
And last week his wife, professor Chung Kyung-sim, was indicted for allegedly forging a college award for their daughter.
South Korea is an intensely competitive society where elite high schools have often been criticised — including by Cho, who has said they create a “more unfair society”.
So he was slammed for hypocrisy when it emerged he had sent his own daughter to such an institution and that she had appeared to benefit from family connections.
Cho was grilled by lawmakers in a marathon 14-hour hearing on Friday, where he said he had “caused deep disappointment” and that his “words and actions were not consistent”.
Analysts say the scandal has laid bare worsening class divisions in South Korea, the world’s 11th largest economy.
South Korea has a single five-year presidential term and Moon’s presidency ends in 2022. A recent poll showed that Cho is the fourth-favourite presidential hopeful.
Opposition Liberty Korea Party condemned the appointment, contending that the country’s “rule of law is dead”.
Score-settling is ingrained in the South’s winner-takes-all political system, with every one of the country’s living former presidents either in prison or convicted of crimes after leaving the office.