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Time for an independent counsel

Apr 24,2018
The scandal over an online opinion manipulation campaign led by former members of the ruling Democratic Party is snowballing. The public is astounded by the sprawling revelations. Politicians are clashing over introducing a special counsel team to investigate the matter that could impact the June 13 local elections. The incident took a new turn after the discovery of a shady financial deal between an aide to Rep. Kim Kyoung-soo and a blogger called Druking, who has been accused of leading an online activist group to manipulate opinions online.

According to police, Druking threatened the lawmaker by telling him that his aide had returned 5 million won ($4,678) to the group when his recommended candidate for consul general for Osaka was turned down. Kim admitted that his aide had received the money but returned it. He said the aide should explain the matter to the police.

The money transaction could be an important key to the relationship between Kim who, despite no official title, maintains an influential role in the Moon Jae-in government and the blogger. When, why, how and in what manner the money had been given should be explained. Kim, whose explanations have differed in every press briefing, is no longer credible. In the beginning, he claimed he simply exchanged texts through encrypted messing platform Telegram to thank a supporter out of formality. Upon new findings, however, he said he refused a favor for public office and admitted that links could have been sent to Druking. All his denials turned out to be lies. Police confirmed the two had communicated multiple times.

The police probe is finally picking up, but trust in the investigation has already been broken. The investigation began in February, but police raided the publisher’s office in Paju, Gyeonggi, and an online opinion rigging campaign group over the weekend. An independent investigation is the only answer to get to the bottom of the case. Three opposition parties have already formed a joint front to discuss creating a special counsel team to investigate the matter by addressing online opinion rigging as a “grave crime.”

The government and ruling party must not hope the scandal will go away through the momentum of a historic inter-Korean summit meeting. If online opinion manipulation is not rooted out, Korea’s democracy could be at risk. Politicians must form a special counsel team as soon as possible to ensure such attempts will never be repeated.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 23, Page 30