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Ex-defense minister gets 2.5 years in jail for political meddling

A court on Thursday sentenced former Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin to 2 1/2 years in prison for ordering the military cyberwarfare command to engage in political activities.

The Seoul Central District Court found Kim, 70, guilty of political interference under military criminal law, but decided not to detain him while he appeals to higher courts.

Kim Kwan-jin (Yonhap)
Kim Kwan-jin (Yonhap)

The ex-defense minister was found not guilty of abuse of authority and obstruction of exercising of rights. He had allegedly raised identification standards to determine whether new recruits for an online comment operation were pro-government, and allegedly ordered the cyberwarfare command to exclude such people from the Jeolla provinces.

The court also sentenced former policy planning chief at the ministry Lim Kwan-bin, 66, to 1 1/2 years in prison, suspended for three years, and ordered a former senior presidential secretary for external affairs and strategy, Kim Tae-hyo, 52, to pay a fine of 10 million won ($8,905)

The three were indicted for ordering members of the military cyberwarfare command to post comments favorable to the then-conservative administration and critical of the opposition some 9,000 times on the internet around the parliamentary and presidential elections in 2012.

In late 2013, under the Park Geun-hye administration, Kim allegedly obstructed investigation by a Defense Ministry inquiry team into the cyberwarfare command’s political interference.

Prosecutors had requested the judge to sentence Kim Kwan-jin to seven years in prison, saying the military “repeated its historical errors by violating its obligation to remain politically neutral.”

Kim said in his final plea that he “went through fire and water for anything necessary to protect the country and its people,” but he “did not coercively push for something illegal or wrongful.”

“The responsibility for the cyberwarfare command, which had been a social issue for a long time, in the end lies with the minister. If subordinates’ overzealousness has led to illegal acts, the responsibility lies with me. I ask the court to make wise judgment on (my) subordinates.”

The prosecution had asked for five years in prison for Lim, along with a 60 million won fine and forfeiture of 28 million won. For Kim Tae-hyo, the prosecution had asked for five years in jail.

By KIm So-hyun (