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Calls for independent probe in Druking case

Apr 24,2018
Three opposition parties agreed on Monday to submit a bill in the National Assembly mandating an independent counsel investigate a case involving an influential blogger, his alleged ties with a ruling party lawmaker and suspicions that they worked together to manipulate online opinion during last year’s presidential election.

“The online opinion manipulation campaign regarding the recent presidential election is a problem that concerns the core of justice and democracy in this country,” the Liberty Korea Party, Bareunmirae Party and Party for Democracy and Peace said in a joint statement on Monday. “We hereby agree that the investigative power of the police and prosecution is limited in this case, and that an independent counsel free from political influence is needed.”

Police have been investigating a power blogger surnamed Kim who uses the online pseudonym Druking and his alleged ties with Rep. Kim Kyoung-soo, a Democratic Party lawmaker and close associate of President Moon Jae-in.

The revelation sparked suspicions that the ruling party might have run a systematic campaign to manipulate online opinion in favor of Moon during last year’s presidential election.

The three opposition parties have 160 members, enough to pass the bill, but it might not be able to reach the floor if it does not get votes in committee from the ruling party.

Members of the Liberty Korea Party and Bareunmirae Party held rallies outside the National Assembly in Yeouido, western Seoul, and Gwanghwamun area in central Seoul on Monday. The Democratic Party called on opposition parties to stop grandstanding and hold a plenary session on constitutional reform, which the parties have been working on for months.

“The constitutional reform we have promised to deliver to the people is being neglected at the National Assembly,” Choo Mi-ae, leader of the Democratic Party, said at a meeting of the party’s Supreme Council on Monday. “If we cannot deliver them together, the opposition had better apologize and take responsibility.”

Earlier this month, President Moon had requested the National Assembly quickly revise a law on national referendums that was declared unconstitutional more than three years ago. Revising the law would allow Korean citizens to directly vote on a constitutional reform bill in upcoming local elections in June.

Druking and two employees of his publishing company were arrested on March 25 for allegedly running a smear campaign against the Moon administration out of spite over an acquaintance getting passed over an appointment. The Democratic Party expelled them last week.

The trio is suspected of running a software program that was able to up-vote particular comments on Naver stories. Over four hours on the night of Jan. 17 and into the next day, the trio had made 614 likes for comments criticizing President Moon’s decision to field a joint women’s hockey team with North Korea during the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in February, according to police.

The case took a new turn when the blogger’s alleged ties to Representative Kim was revealed earlier this month through text messages that included links to websites and Kim’s requests to the blogger to promote them.

Last week, police found that Kim’s aide took 5 million won ($4,640) from Druking, though the aide returned it after Druking’s arrest. Authorities are investigating if the money was a bribe in return for a political favor.

BY ESTHER CHUNG, HONG JI-YU [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]