Yoon’s ally at NIS quits for ‘personal’ reason
President Yoon Suk-yeol accepted the sudden resignation of Cho Sang-joon, a deputy director of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) who is considered his close ally.
Cho tendered his resignation Tuesday evening for “personal reasons,” the NIS said, without providing details.
The presidential office said Yoon approved the paperwork Wednesday morning.
Cho stepped down ahead of a parliamentary audit of the NIS scheduled for Wednesday.
NIS Director Kim Kyou-hyun was informed of Jo’s sudden resignation only afterwards by the presidential office, according to lawmakers.
“The NIS director received notification directly from the presidential office between 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday evening,” said People Power Party (PPP) Rep. Yoo Sang-bum, a secretary of the parliamentary intelligence committee, in a briefing at the National Assembly Wednesday.
“Deputy Director Cho’s resignation was approved afterwards. It was confirmed that Cho did not directly express his resignation to the NIS chief.”
The reason for his resignation “is considered to be personal,” said Yoo, and the NIS “hasn’t figured out the specifics.”
Cho, a former senior prosecutor at the Seoul High Prosecutors’ Office, is viewed as one of Yoon’s closest associates along with Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon.
Like Yoon, Cho earned a law degree from Seoul National University. He became a prosecutor in 1999 and was an investigator in the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office’s Central Investigation Division, working with Yoon on the 2006 investigation into U.S. private equity firm Lone Star’s sale of the Korea Exchange Bank.
In June, Yoon appointed Cho as a NIS deputy director in charge of planning and coordination.
His resignation and lack of an explanation why prompted much speculation.
A presidential official said that Cho “appears to be hospitalized for health reasons.”
However, former NIS Director Park Jie-won hinted that there may have been friction between Cho and NIS chief Kim over personnel appointments.
Kim is a career diplomat who served as deputy national security adviser in the Park Geun-hye administration.
“I’ve heard rumors that he clashed with the NIS director over personnel issues, but I don’t know exactly why,” Park wrote in a Facebook post Wednesday. “I was shocked when the news broke.”
He said he was weighing in because he had received a lot of questions from reporters.
Rep. Youn Kun-young, the Democratic Party’s secretary on the parliamentary intelligence committee, told reporters the NIS said “it can’t disclose the reason for the resignation” following the Wednesday parliamentary audit of the spy agency.
During the audit, NIS chief Kim was asked by a lawmaker about Cho’s resignation and whether he went through a “process of verifying that there were no problems during his tenure.” Youn said that Kim did not give a specific response for quitting.
“Because it was a personal reason, we won’t elaborate any further,” a presidential official said in a briefing later Wednesday responding to reporters’ questions on why Cho resigned.
When asked why Cho reported to the president first instead of his direct superior, the official replied, “The president appointed him, so it is according to the due procedure to check with the president first.”
BY SARAH KIM [email@example.com]