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Authorities grill former aide in Druking case

May 02,2018
Police questioned the former aide of a ruling party lawmaker for more than 10 hours on Tuesday over his alleged involvement in a campaign to manipulate online opinion in favor of President Moon Jae-in during last year’s election.

The campaign later turned on the president after the Moon administration allegedly refused to grant a patronage position to a political ally.

The former aide, a 49-year-old man surnamed Han, allegedly received 5 million won ($4,650) from a member of an online community run by Druking, a blogger who goes by the alias Druking. Han was formerly an aide to Democratic Party Rep. Kim Kyoung-soo, a confidant of President Moon.

Han told police that the 5 million won was “personally borrowed” and did not have any political connection, but investigators believe Han might have received the money in exchange for a political favor. Authorities discovered that Druking had sent a text message to Han in March mentioning the 5 million won transaction and threatening him after an alleged deal to offer the job of consul general in Osaka to one of his online community members fell through.

Police confirmed that Han later returned the money to the member on March 26, a day after they arrested Druking for running a smear campaign against Moon on Naver, Korea’s largest portal site.

Han was booked as a suspect for violating a local antigraft law. The law forbids any public official from receiving more than 3 million won in money or goods per year from anyone.

Han left his job at the representative’s office last month. Authorities plan to summon Rep. Kim Kyoung-soo for questioning soon and are mulling whether to request a warrant for Han’s arrest.

The police will also attempt another warrant application to seize Rep. Kim Kyoung-soo’s bank records, phone records and text messages. They had requested the warrant last month, but prosecutors dismissed it without publicizing the reason, saying it would harm ongoing investigations.

The police also intend to expand the investigation to other members of the online community who might have been involved in manipulating online opinion. Four members have already been arrested for running a program that can input multiple comments or up-vote particular comments on Naver stories to rig public opinion.

Over a period of four hours on the night of Jan. 17 and into the next day, the group made 614 likes on comments criticizing President Moon’s decision to field a joint women’s hockey team with North Korea during the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, according to police.

The police later discovered that Druking and Rep. Kim Kyoung-soo had exchanged text messages from November 2016 to March this year on Telegram, a mobile messaging app. Sent between January and March last year, in the midst of the presidential election, the text messages included links to websites and articles favorable toward Moon. Representative Kim told Druking that he wanted the blogger to share them.

Druking usually replied that he would handle it, police said.

BY CHOI KYU-JIN, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]