There are some doubtful aspects to the fact that while Justice Minister nominee Cho Kuk was serving as the senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, South Korean presidential office Cheong Wa Dae inspected the Education Ministry’s probe into underage students’ registration as thesis co-authors. During the inspection conducted between late last year and early this year, Cho’s office is said to have summoned an Education Ministry official to make inquiries about how the ministry probed theses in question. The presidential office is taking a cautious attitude, declining to confirm details about the inspection. Considering the ongoing suspicions about the alleged irregularities involving Cho’s daughter’s thesis, it is highly suspected that he reacted sensitively to the ministry’s investigation.
New suspicions are being raised day after day about the thesis in question. In the list of the names of the participant researchers, Cho’s daughter is registered as a “doctor” from the Dankook University’s Institute of Medical Science, according to the university’s research projects management system. The list, commonly recorded by the lead researcher, falsely states the status of Cho’s daughter. It could be evidence that the person who made the list was aware that registering Cho’s high school student daughter as the primary author of the thesis could cause a problem.
The institute received about 25 million won (approx. 20,661 U.S. dollars) from the state-funded National Research Foundation of Korea in basic science support funds. After all, the state budget intended to aid young scientists’ research activities was used to help Cho’s daughter to be admitted to a desired university. Moreover, it is suspected that the research team simply added her name to the co-authors’ list, as she interned at the institute a month after the research was already concluded.
The facts that Dankook University convened a research ethics committee meeting and that the Korean Medical Association is considering ways to take a disciplinary action against the thesis’ main author show that how seriously the academia and the medical community view the situation. If probes by the university and relevant organizations are not sufficient, the law enforcement authorities should also get involved in the fact-finding efforts.
On his way to work on Thursday, Cho said that he would not turn a blind eye or make excuses about the suspicions. Still, he insisted on going through a parliamentary hearing on his nomination. This suggests that he still does not recognize the reality. The post of the Justice Minister is not a position he can handle, as he could possibly face an investigation as a suspect in thesis irregularities. As a former Seoul National University professor and high-ranking public official, the only way he can take his responsibility for this case is to resign from his nomination and help find the truth.