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Unverified rumors and misinformation sprout around justice minister scandal

Minister of Justice Choo Mi-ae. (Yonhap)
Minister of Justice Choo Mi-ae. (Yonhap)
Unverified accusations and false information are flooding the country’s political arena and online communities, prompted by the scandal surrounding Minister of Justice Choo Mi-ae and her son.

Choo faces allegations that she used her position as a ruling Democratic Party of Korea leader to give preferential treatment to her son, identified by the surname Seo, during his service with the Korean Augmentation to the United States Army from 2016 to 2018.

Unverified information about government officials or a scandal making headlines being circulated has become a common occurrence in Korea. This time around, however, such misinformation is being fanned by politicians and internet users alike, with specific political inclinations.

As allegations surrounding Choo and her son grew, claims that sons of Rep. Joo Ho-young -- floor leader of the main opposition People Power Party -- received preferential treatment ranging from being assigned to a highly coveted post to frequently missing work during military service without consequences widely circulated online.

The claims were quickly proven to be false, down to the posts Joo’s two sons were alleged to have served in, but not before spreading in various online communities.

Anonymous internet users are not alone in adding fuel to the rumors, with politicians and other high-profile figures on both sides adding fodder with unnamed sources and unverified suspicions.

Rep. Kim Kyung-hyup of the ruling Democratic Party has insinuated that there may be a mastermind behind the developments surrounding Choo’s son.

In a Facebook post on Sept. 13, Kim accused those who provided information – Seo’s former KATUSA colleague and former KATUSA commander – that ignited the scandal as lying, saying that “those who ordered (the informers) must be found.”

Seo’s former KATUSA colleague claims his leave was extended after the deadline for returning to the base had expired. The former KATUSA commander has claimed that members of Choo’s family had attempted to have Seo posted at the US military garrison in Seoul.

Although to a lesser extent, the main opposition has also added unverified claims to the scandal. Rep. Cho Su-jin of the People Power Party on Tuesday claimed that Seo was playing an online game after the expiration of his leave from base, citing an informant.

Cho, however, did not disclose any information regarding the identity of the informing party, and her requests for information on Seo’s log-in records were denied by the game’s operator.

By Choi He-suk (