On April 10, president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol nominated the surgeon Chung Ho-young for the position of Minister of Health and Welfare of South Korea. Chung is known for his expertise in treating stomach cancer and is a former president of Kyungpook National University Hospital. He is also known to have been a close friend of Yoon’s for over 40 years.
A mere day after the nomination was announced, the thoughts Chung had opined in his column in the Daegu-based newspaper Maeil Shinmun from 2009 to 2013 became a matter of controversy. Among the things he wrote were: “More women [change the way they look in photos] than men, and for women, regardless of their beauty, their photographs differ from how they look, probably because they have photoshopped them” (when talking about his experiences in interviewing workers for the hospital); “By getting married, you can be a prospective patriot, and if that leads to having children, you can finally join the ranks of patriots. Those who have three or more children should be treated as ‘people of outstanding achievements’”; “The stethoscope, which was invented out of the embarrassment of doctors having to put their ears to female patients’ chests, is now to grow longer” (agreeing with a doctors’ organization that it is unreasonable for medical professionals who have committed sex crimes to be restricted from practicing).
The next day, Chung apologized to “those who have felt uncomfortable or were hurt” by his column.
Then began the scrutiny over Chung’s children and their admissions to the Kyungpook National University School of Medicine. Chung’s son and daughter were science majors who transferred to KNU School of Medicine when Chung was the president of KNU Hospital. This has led to a debate over the so-called ‘daddy chance’.
On April 14, political commentator Chin Jungkwon compared Chung to the former Justice Minister Cho Kuk, who resigned after questions were raised about his daughter’s admissions to Korea University and Pusan National University Medical School. In a Facebook post, Chin linked to an article on Chung and his children’s admission to KNU School of Medicine and wrote:
Cho Kuk Season 2: The People Power Party”
— Chin Jungkwon, April 14, 2022
On April 15, the Democratic Party’s floor spokesperson Oh Young-hwan also held a briefing, urging Chung to “resign and stop deceiving the people”:
“Allegations of preferential treatment for the son of the Minister of Health and Welfare candidate Chung Ho-young are surfacing day by day.
While attending the School of Electronics Engineering at Kyungpook National University, Chung’s son participated in writing two papers in Korean Citation Index (KCI) journals and was listed as a co-author after graduation. Considering that all [of the co-authors] except candidate Chung’s son were master’s and doctoral students at the time, this is quite unusual.
Candidate Chung’s son claims that he ‘proposed a surprising new idea’ to his seniors, but another co-author of the paper said, ‘I have no memory of Chung’s idea being reflected in the thesis.’
Also, it is odd that he took 19 credit hours per semester while working as a researcher for 40 hours a week, as recorded in the ‘experiences’ section of his application to Kyungpook National University School of Medicine. It is difficult to avoid the suspicion that his experiences have been exaggerated, since it is physically rather difficult to combine class and research activities.
This is not the only suspicion of preferential treatment received by candidate Chung’s son. When Chung’s son was transferring to KNU, Lee Jong-myung, Dean of the Graduate School of Medicine, was the chairperson for the application and interview evaluation committee, and had been in a class ahead of Chung while attending KNU School of Medicine. Moreover, he was serving as a board director of Kyungpook National University Hospital at the time.
Yet candidate Chung remains firm and confident despite these allegations, and President-elect Yoon says not to ‘frame [Chung] unreasonably’ and that he will keep an eye on the situation until the public hearing by the National Assembly.
Recently, suspicions regarding candidate Chung’s son’s military service have been raised as well, as Chung’s son was originally classified to go on active duty but was evaluated five years later for alternative civilian service in lieu of military conscription.
Their rude attitude leaves us speechless. Candidate Chung Ho-young does not seem to understand that his view is far from the national sentiment.
Along with the people of Korea, I cannot help but ask whether President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, who cried for fairness, has the same opinion as candidate Chung. President-elect Yoon must clarify his position on Candidate Chung’s voluntary resignation and withdraw his nomination.”
— Oh Young-hwan, floor spokesperson for the Democratic Party of Korea, April 15, 2022
On April 17, Chung held a press conference to address the controversy, in which he denied the allegations, but fell short of clarifying all the suspicions cast on his involvement in the matters of his children. Moreover, Bae Hyun-jin, the spokesperson for the president-elect, said in a briefing on the same day that Yoon had remarked that “we need undeniable facts” regarding the allegations in order for Chung to resign or for Yoon to recommend that he step down. Other members of the People Power Party insisted that this case was not comparable to Cho Kuk’s case, since there had been clear falsifications of Cho’s daughter’s educational background, while nothing has yet been proven for Chung’s children. However, considering that Yoon went ahead with the investigation into Cho Kuk’s case without confirmed facts when he was the prosecutor general, public opinion seems to be leaning toward investigating Chung’s children as thoroughly as Cho Kuk’s children have been investigated.
Cho Kuk expressed his opinion on the matter on Facebook on April 18:
“Had my daughter and son transferred to Seoul National University Law School one after another, and the following happened, what would Prosecutor Yoon Suk-yeol’, the media, the authorities, and university students have done? Would Yoon have said, ‘We need undeniable facts’? Or would he have said that an investigation by the Ministry of Education, which has no legal investigative power, was sufficient?
(1) The co-authors of my paper gave a perfect score for my daughter’s oral exam when she was transferring [to the school where I work].
(2) My son wrote in his transfer application that he worked as a researcher for 40 hours a week while also taking 19 credit hours.
(3) My son participated for three months in a nine-month project and stated in his transfer application that he ‘participated [in the project] from the beginning.’
(4) Seoul National University Law School participated in the research project my son was involved in as an undergraduate student, and he listed this experience in his transfer application.
(5) My son was the only high school student to be listed as a co-author on a SCI-level paper, and he listed this paper on the transfer application he submitted.
(6) The paper that listed my son as an undergraduate co-author was in parts copy-pasted from the master’s thesis of a Chinese student.
(7) My son’s transfer application was denied the first year, but he submitted the same documents and was admitted as a transfer student the following year.
(😎 Five years after my son was classified for active duty in the military, he was called to do alternative civilian service due to a spinal disease. During those five years, the total medical expenses he spent on treating the spinal disease were only 150,000 won.)
After the adjustment of criminal investigation powers, the police (National Office of Investigation) will have the primary investigative authority on matters related to corruption in college entrance examinations. As the principal investigative authority, will they initiate an investigation into Yoon Suk-yeol’s best friend? Will the prosecution, which monopolizes the right to request a warrant according to the Constitution, request a search and seizure warrant [to investigate the allegations against Chung’s son]?”
— Cho Kuk, former Justice Minister, April 18, 2022
As the Cho Kuk case played a major role in Yoon Suk-yeol’s political career, boosting his profile and helping his bid to become a presidential candidate and later the president-elect, we will have to wait and see what kind of stance he takes on the Chung Ho-young case–will Chung and his family be investigated as thoroughly and even excessively (Cho Kuk remarked that the prosecution seized even his daughter’s personal journal she’d kept as a middle school student) as Cho Kuk’s have been? Or will this be one of those naeronambul cases that Yoon has spoken out against?