Cho Kuk, Seoul, South Korea, September 6 2019. Picture: REUTERS/KIM HONG-JI.
Cho Kuk, Seoul, South Korea, September 6 2019. Picture: REUTERS/KIM HONG-JI.

Seoul — South Korean President Moon Jae-in apologised after his justice minister — and close confidant — offered to resign just five weeks after taking the job.

Moon told a meeting of top secretaries on Monday that he felt regret for having “caused so much friction between the people” after weeks of protest against his appointment of Cho Kuk as justice minister. Cho said earlier that he was tendering his resignation to relieve pressure on Moon and improve the environment for reforms of the national prosecution system.

Moon didn’t specify whether he had accepted Cho’s resignation. Cho faced a range of inquiries into issues involving him and his wife, including their children’s university applications and an investment in a private equity fund.

“I’ve decided that I should no longer put pressure on the president and the government with my family issues,” Cho said in a statement. “I’ve decided that in order for a successful reform of the prosecution, I needed to step down.”

While the decision to appoint Cho delighted the president’s left-leaning base, many South Koreans opposed the move. Tens of thousands of critics have flooded Seoul’s streets in recent weeks, calling for Cho’s resignation.

Cho, a former law professor who became a senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, has denied wrongdoing. The probes undermined Cho’s efforts to paint himself as a reformer trying to level the legal playing field for the average citizen.

The opposition Liberty Korea Party has gained ground on Moon’s Democratic Party amid the scandal. A Real Meter poll released earlier Monday showed the LKP with about 34% of support, less than one percentage point behind the ruling party.

With Kanga Kong.

Bloomberg