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[Newsmaker] Partisan strife continues over special probe of online opinion rigging

A partisan squabble over an opinion-rigging scandal involving an incumbent governor resumed Thursday as the team of investigators led by special counsel Huh Ik-bum decided not to request an extension of its operating term.

Thirteen special counsel investigations have been carried out in Korea, and Huh is the first not to seek an extension of the team’s term.

The special counsel team’s probe lost momentum after the court rejected its request for a warrant to detain South Gyeongsang Province Gov. Kim Kyoung-soo on the suspicion that he colluded with a group led by an influential blogger to manipulate public opinion on the internet.

South Gyeongsang Province Gov. Kim Kyoung-soo(Yonhap)
South Gyeongsang Province Gov. Kim Kyoung-soo(Yonhap)

The blogger Kim Dong-won, known as Druking, was detained early this year for using a software to ramp up the number of “agree” clicks to certain comments on news articles on an internet portal.

The special counsel has decided to indict Gov. Kim without detention, saying an extension of the probe is unnecessary as it has collected enough evidence to prove the charges against him.

Main opposition Liberty Korea Party floor leader Kim Sung-tae slammed the decision, vowing to “find out the truth” behind the case through next month’s parliamentary audit and a parliamentary inquiry.

“Everyone knows that Druking’s group and key advisers to the Moon Jae-in administration undermined democracy by manipulating online comments,” Rep. Kim Sung-tae said during a meeting at the National Assembly on Thursday.

Accusing the Moon administration of “incapacitating” the special counsel and criticizing it for not dismissing Seoul police Chief Lee Joo-min who led the initial probe into the case, Rep. Kim called on Huh to change his mind and request an extension before his special investigative rights expire Saturday.

The special counsel is expected to announce the results of its questioning of presidential secretaries Song In-bae and Baek Won-woo by Saturday.

Huh’s team decided not to hand over the duo’s interrogation and investigation reports to the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office.

Song was summoned for questioning on Aug. 12, as he was found to have received 2 million won ($1,782) from Druking’s group for introducing it to then-lawmaker Kim Kyoung-soo at Kim’s office in June 2016.

The special counsel team also found that Song received a paycheck of about 200 million won from a country club owned by the late chairman of a textile company, raising suspicions over whether it was an illegal political donation.

Baek is suspected of having peddled influence in earlier investigations by police and the prosecution into the opinion-rigging case.

Baek is believed to have led Cheong Wa Dae’s response to Druking’s threats against Gov. Kim after the blogger’s request to appoint his friends to government positions was turned down.

Baek made a phone call to and met with the lawyer friend of Druking whom the blogger had asked Kim to appoint to a diplomatic mission in Osaka, Japan.

The special counsel questioned Baek on Aug. 15 on the details of his conversation with the lawyer surnamed Doh.

By Kim So-hyun (