OPINION

[Editorial] Mountain of allegations

By Korea Herald

Probe by special counsel inevitable for online rigging scandal

  • Published : Apr 23, 2018 - 17:36
  • Updated : Apr 23, 2018 - 17:36

There are enough reasons a special counsel should be appointed to get to the bottom of the online opinion-rigging scandal involving one of President Moon Jae-in’s closest associates.

Most of all, the police, who have been investigating the case for months, and Rep. Kim Kyoung-soo, a key figure in the scandal, have been found to have lied about what happened between the lawmaker and main suspect, known by the internet alias “Druking.”

Ordinarily, suspects implicated in a crime are supposed to attempt to conceal the truth and give testimony only favorable to themselves. It is the job of law enforcement authorities to find the truth and punish those who have breached the law.

But Seoul Police have been doing the opposite. Some of the statements made by Commissioner Lee Ju-min and other officers have turned out to be lies aimed at protecting Rep. Kim.

For instance, Lee said last week that a police investigation had found that Druking one-sidedly sent messages regarding online posts and that Rep. Kim replied only with ritual acknowledgements and greetings. The police commissioner also said that Druking sent more than 3,000 internet links to news stories to Rep. Kim, but the lawmaker did not even open the messages.

All these turned out to be untruthful, and only after the news reports came out did Lee acknowledge that the two had closer relations. As a matter of fact, Kim and Druking have been in contact with each other since 2016 and the two exchanged many messages -- through private, secured messenger apps -- regarding the power blogger’s online activities.

In one case, Kim sent to Druking internet links to 10 news stories posted on a portal site, saying, “Please publicize these.” Druking confirmed, saying, “will take care of it.” They used two encrypted mobile messenger apps: Telegram and Signal. One can easily imagine what their relationship may be.

There are more cases that point to problems in the police investigation. Police kept the detention and indictment of Druking and two other suspects from the news media and did not take actions to prevent Rep. Kim and others implicated in the case from tampering with evidence in the initial stage of the investigation.

As public criticism and suspicions have grown, Seoul Police on Sunday obtained search and seizure warrants for internet communities and a publishing company run by Druking.

The police have not yet taken any action on Rep. Kim, though officials have said they plan to question him soon. Compare the police’s excessively restrained approach in the case to the swift and sweeping investigation into the alleged assault case involving the daughter of the Hanjin Group chairman Cho Yang-ho.

Some point to the fact that Rep. Kim and Lee worked in the same Cheong Wa Dae office during the Roh Moo-hyun administration, in which President Moon served in key posts, including as Cheong Wa Dae chief of staff. Commissioner Lee is also said to be a strong candidate for national police chief.

All these factors strengthen the argument that the case that involves a key associate of the president and which has already caused suspicions about possible cover-ups or a flawed investigation should be left to a politically independent special counsel.

There are many things that still need to be verified. How long and for whom Druking and his colleagues manipulated internet posts, how much Kim and other politicians were involved in their activities, what role the Druking group played during the last presidential election and who financed their work.

Last Thursday, the Supreme Court upheld a four-year prison term for former spy agency chief Won Sei-hoon for masterminding online operations to support former President Park Geun-hye.

In its nature, the online activities perpetrated by Druking, who is suspected of using illegal software to manipulate clicks to internet posts, are little different from those committed during the past government in that they tried to rig public opinion. The same crime deserves the same punishment.