SEOUL -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in apologized on Monday following the abrupt resignation of his scandal-hit justice minister after just over a month in office.
Moon appointed Cho Kuk, a former law professor, in September to lead reforms of the country's prosecutors' office -- a key policy platform of the president. His appointment of his close aide had fueled large-scale protests in recent weeks as the prosecution widened its investigation into Cho's family's financial investments and alleged influence peddling over his daughter's university admission.
"I am very sorry for causing at a lot of conflict among people," Moon said in a weekly meeting with senior secretaries. "Our society has suffered much pain. As a president, I am very sorry to the people over this."
Cho said earlier on Monday that his role as a "kindling wood" for the reform of the prosecution was over, and it was time to be with his family, who he said were going through the "most difficult time of their life." The prosecution indicted Cho's wife, Chung Kyung-shim, last month for allegedly manipulating her daughter's award from Dongyang University, where she works as a professor.
Chung is also under investigation over her investments in a private equity fund that is suspected of stock price manipulation. Cho Bum-dong, Cho Kuk's nephew and operator of the fund, was arrested last month on charges of embezzling the assets of companies in which the fund invested.
"I am very sorry to the people about the investigation on [my] family, but I took the job to complete my mission for the reformation of the prosecution," said Cho in a statement. "I thought that I should not be burden to the president and the government anymore with my family affairs."
The resignation came as support for Moon falls sharply over disappointed with the minister's corruption scandal. His approval rating dropped to 42.5% in the second week of October, according to a pollster Realmeter -- the lowest level since his inauguration two-and-half years ago. About 56% of respondents said that Cho should step down.
Jung Ji-yeon, a director at Gallup Korea, said that Cho's appointment has led to the slide in support for Moon.
"People who disapprove of Moon point out the president's human resources policy as a key reason behind their negative estimation," Jung told the Nikkei Asian Review. "It remains to be seen how the resignation will affect Moon's approval ratings later."
Cho is a professor of law at Seoul National University, the nation's top school, and has long been affiliated with leftist causes -- in the early 1990s, he was arrested under South Korea's anti-communist National Security Law.
He is reputed to be one of the president's most trusted aides, and was a vocal supporter of Moon's first run for president in 2012. They both have backgrounds in law, and lived in the southern city of Busan. Before accepting the nomination, Cho served as Moon's secretary for civil affairs.