South Gyeongsang Province Gov. Kim Kyoung-soo, a key associate of President Moon Jae-in, colluded in a massive opinion-rigging campaign, an independent counsel investigation concluded Monday.
In a briefing on the 60-day investigation, special prosecutor Huh Ik-bum announced that power blogger Kim Dong-won, nicknamed “Druking,” and members of his organization had manipulated thousands of online comments -- to sway public opinion in favor of the Democratic Party of Korea -- under Gov. Kim’s supervision.
|Independent counsel Huh Ik-bum, right, speaks at a press briefing at the counsel`s office in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap)|
According to the investigators, Druking’s group used a program dubbed King Crab to manipulate over 1.41 million comments to 81,623 news articles, using 3,027 accounts on local portal sites Naver, Daum and Nate. It also artificially added 99.7 million “likes” or “dislikes” on the articles to mislead the companies’ algorithms, investigators said.
The investigation also revealed that the group deliberately started the opinion-rigging scheme to influence last year’s presidential election. The number of fabricated “likes” and “dislikes” on the three portal sites appeared to be 15.3 million in April 2017, showing a surge, just a month before last year’s presidential election which took place in May. In March 2017, the total number of was 1.5 million.
The special prosecutorial team indicted the governor without detention on charges of obstruction of business and violation of election law.
The investigators also concluded that Gov. Kim asked the power blogger and his organization to help him win the governor position in the June 13 local elections, promising Druking a consular representative position in Japan in return. The governor was formerly a lawmaker of the ruling Democratic Party.
Eleven others have been indicted over the opinion-rigging scheme, including Druking, who is standing trial under detention for several charges that include obstruction of business and violations of election and political funds regulations.
The investigators found that Gov. Kim met with Druking 11 times during the specified time of June 30, 2016 to Feb. 20, 2018 in the headquarters located in Paju, Gyeonggi Province and in Kim’s office at the National Assembly when he was a lawmaker.
According to the investigation report, Druking learned from a party official that the opposition party had bought 200 automated devices to manipulate online comments for the 2007 presidential election and would use them again for the 2017 presidential election.
Feeling the need to take counteractions, Druking informed then-Rep. Kim on Sept. 28, 2016. On Nov. 9 in the same year, Druking introduced his own automated software King Crab to Kim when he visited him in Paju, Gyeonggi Province. There Druking obtained Kim’s approval to proceed with his own manipulation campaign for the Democratic Party, according to investigators.
|Independent counsel Huh Ik-bum, center, speaks at a press briefing at the counsel`s office in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap)|
Gov. Kim has flatly denied all allegations. Though admitting he had visited the headquarters of Druking’s organization in Paju, he insisted he was never introduced to the automated program and he kept in contact with the power blogger only because Druking ran a civic support group for the Democratic Party.
Over late lawmaker Rep. Roh Hoe-chan of progressive opposition Justice Party, the independent counsel confirmed that Roh had received a total of 50 million won ($44,300) in 2016 from an attorney who is a close associate to Druking.
On July 23, Rep. Roh was found dead in an apparent suicide, leaving behind notes revealing that he received the money, but that it was not related to illicit solicitation.
In Monday’s briefing, special prosecutor Huh Ik-bum expressed regret over political parties’ criticisms of the independent counsel’s investigation.
“I deeply express my regret to the political circle, which made biased evaluations of our legitimate investigation plans, and I was sorry to hear some political figures making degrading remarks about individual members of the team,” Huh said.
The investigation team is expected to provide a report to the president and the parliament about their special investigation within 10 days of Monday’s announcement.
After President Moon Jae-in appointed the special prosecutor on June 7, the independent counsel team had 20 days of preparation before officially kicking off the 60-day probe on June 27. The team did not seek an extension of its mandate.
By Jo He-rim (firstname.lastname@example.org)