(LEAD) Appeals court confirms 2-yr sentence for ex-Minister Cho over academic fraud

An appeals court on Thursday upheld a two-year prison sentence for former Justice Minister Cho Kuk convicted of academic fraud involving his children and unlawful interference with a government inspection. The Seoul High Court confirmed a lower court's ruling, finding the 58-year-old guilty of using his influence to receive academic favors, including university admissions, for his children and interfering with an inspection into a corruption case by using his power as a presidential aide. Like the lower court, the appellate court did not place Cho under immediate detention, citing low flight risk, little chance of the destruction of evidence and the need to ensure his right of defense. The lower court's order for Cho to forfeit 6 million won (US$4,520) was also approved. The appellate court said that Cho has not shown an attitude of admitting his crimes or repenting for his wrongdoings. Cho, a former law professor at Seoul National University, served as the senior presidential secretary for civil affairs from 2017-19 during the Moon Jae-in presidency. He was appointed as the justice minister in September 2019 before stepping down about a month later amid the scandal. He was indicted in December 2019 on a dozen charges, including fabricating various documents to help his two children get into universities and graduate schools and receiving a kickback worth 6 million won in the form of a scholarship for his daughter, who attended a medical school in the southeastern city of Busan. Cho was later additionally indicted on charges of using his power as a presidential aide to end an inspection into bribery allegations involving a former Busan vice mayor. About one year ago, the Seoul Central District Court convicted Cho on most of the charges related to academic fraud but did not lock him up. Prosecutors demanded the Seoul High Court give a five-year prison sentence to Cho in the previous trial last December. Following the appellate court's ruling, Cho told reporters that he will appeal to the Supreme Court. In the same ruling, the appeals court lowered a one-year prison sentence for Cho's wife, Chung Kyung-sim, convicted of serving as an accomplice in the academic fraud, to a one-year sentence suspended for two years. Chung was released on parole in September last year after serving one-third of her four-year prison term for forging documents and academic credentials to get her daughter admitted to the Busan medical school. Prosecutors requested a two-year prison term for Chung in the preceding trial. The latest ruling comes over four years after the outbreak of the scandal, which served as a major setback for the Moon government. Cho has recently engaged in various external activities, triggering speculation that he was seeking to expand his political influence ahead of the April 10 general elections. Source: Yonhap News Agency

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