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South Korean President criticises indictment of former minister

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A spokesman for President Moon Jae-in said the indictment Tuesday of ex-Justice Minister Cho Kuk (above) raised questions about the prosecutors' motivation.

[SEOUL] South Korea's presidential office criticised prosecutors' decision to indict the country's former justice minister, pushing back against a scandal that has damaged the ruling party ahead of parliamentary elections.

A spokesman for President Moon Jae-in said the indictment Tuesday of ex-Justice Minister Cho Kuk raised questions about the prosecutors' motivation. The Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office indicted Cho on 12 charges in all, including bribery and obstruction of justice, the Yonhap News Agency reported, citing prosecutors.

"It's a conclusion that makes us doubt even the intention of the probe to begin with," Moon spokesman Yoon Do-han said in a statement. "We predict that the people's trust in the prosecution will be damaged."

Among other things, Cho was accused of forging scholarship transcripts as part of his son's law school application, Yonhap said. He was similarly charged with fabricating internship certifications to help with his daughter get into medical school, the report said.

Prosecutors deemed a 6 million won (S$6,988) scholarship Cho's daughter received to be a bribe.

Cho's lawyer, Kim Chil-jun, vowed in a statement posted on the former minister's personal Facebook page to refute all the charges, calling the indictment an "imaginary and fabricated political move."

The indictment comes less than three months after Cho - a former Moon aide - stepped down amid investigations into whether members of his family inflated college admission applications and improperly benefited from private equity investments. Cho's resignation after just five weeks on the job was particularly damaging to Moon because he decided to push through the appointment after the probes had come to light.

Moon is facing the biggest electoral test of his presidency in April, when all of South Korea's lawmakers are up for re-election. The allegations against Cho have stoked simmering public outrage over a rigged education system that many South Koreans believe favors ruling elites.

Last week, the Seoul Central District Court rejected an arrest warrant that prosecutors requested on the bribery charges. Moon's office welcomed the court's move, saying the decision showed "how unreasonable" the initial request was.

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