South Korea’s opposition parties have urged Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae to step down due to the allegations that she had used her influence to obtain special treatment for her son during his compulsory military service.
Choo’s 27-year-old son, surnamed Seo, was suspected to have used his mother’s influence to get an extra four days of sick leaves without prior approval after his knee surgery in 2017, as reported by Yonhap News.
Seo was serving as a member of the Korean Augmentation to the United States Army (KATUSA) in 2016 and 2017. While Choo was serving as a five-term lawmaker and chairwoman of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) at the time.
Korea Herald reported on 10 September that the Defense Ministry has dismissed the speculation and stated that soldiers are allowed to take emergency leave for up to 30 days to undergo medical treatment if it is approved by a commander.
In South Korea, the education and mandatory military service of elected officials and high-level public servants, and their children, is a highly sensitive issue.
The main opposition People Power Party (PPP) interim leader Kim Chong-in said that Choo and her predecessor Cho Kuk, who is on trial following charges of corruption and influence-peddling regarding his children’s education, have sparked a public uproar.
Choo was appointed as the justice minister in January after the resignation of Cho, who was alleged of corruption and power abuse within his family.
Kim, during a party meeting yesterday (14 Sept), described the country is fighting “two kinds of viruses”, the coronavirus and the “virus of inequality”, as reported by The Korea Times on Tuesday (15 Sept).
“Within the Moon Jae-in administration, justice ministers are the super-spreaders of the inequality virus. The people are infuriated with the privileges given the children of former justice minister Cho and minister Choo in the areas of education and military service,” he noted.
The ruling party calls it a “privilege and foul play” when other people committed wrongdoings, but call it “equality” when its own members do the same, said Kim.
“President Moon should dismiss the justice minister in accordance with the people’s call,” Kim added.
“The President is ultimately responsible for the controversy over the unfair favours surrounding the justice minister. The situation should not be aggravated by his silence.”
It was reported that President Moon Jae-in has yet to address the justice minister’s controversy. His office has avoided touching on the controversy, saying that the prosecution’s investigation of the allegations made against Choo’s son is ongoing.
Choo has earlier on (13 Sept) made an online apology over the allegations of using her influence for the benefit of her son, but denied the allegations.
“I have caused trouble to the people with issues involving my son’s military duty at a time when the whole nation is having a difficult time due to the COVID-19 crisis. I want to first express my apologies,” she wrote in a Facebook post.
Her apology, however, was criticized by the opposition parties.
“People are talking about fairness and justice so why does Choo give irrelevant answers with tear-jerking stories?” said the minor opposition People’s Party chief Ahn Cheol-soo in a party meeting on Monday (14 Sept).
“Is Choo resisting [calls for resignation] because the President supports her?” he asked. “I hope Moon and Choo will make an administration that deprives people of hope and trust.”
Meanwhile, DPK chairman Lee Nak-yon said in a Supreme Council meeting on Monday that “the prosecution will uncover the truth” behind the allegations made against the justice minister.
“The political circle must refrain from political wrangling and wait for the results of the prosecution’s investigation.”