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Blogger’s financial ties with lawmaker probed

May 10,2018
In the latest development of Korea’s own “fake news” case, an influential blogger charged with manipulating comments on the country’s most popular portal site may have collected donations for a ruling party lawmaker, according to files obtained by the police on Tuesday, deepening suspicions that the blogger may have masterminded his campaign on behalf of the Democratic Party.

The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency obtained the files from a USB drive belonging to a close associate of Kim Dong-won, the blogger known online as Druking. The finding is the latest in a police investigation of Druking’s alleged campaign to rig online opinion in favor of President Moon Jae-in during last year’s election.

According to the police, Druking and his team used software to fiddle with the comments section on Naver by increasing the number of “likes” on certain comments and giving the appearance that one opinion dominated on the forum. Druking allegedly used the software to help Moon win the election, but when the president’s office refused to grant patronage positions to some of his acquaintances after the election, the blogger turned on Moon by having his team like comments critical of the president.

The police arrested Druking in March for his anti-Moon campaign, and at his first trial hearing last week, the blogger admitted to the charge. Central to Druking’s online activities was a community he ran called Kyungkongmo. According to files from the USB drive, members of the online community collected over 30 million won ($27,800) to deliver to Rep. Kim Kyoung-soo, a Democratic Party lawmaker with close ties to President Moon. The police are investigating allegations that Kim may have worked with Druking to manipulate online opinion during last year’s election and that Kyungkongmo may have supplied the manpower.

Whether the money actually made it to Kim remains unclear. In a similar case from March 2016, authorities investigated Druking after he posted on the group’s forum that he had delivered 20 million won to Rep. Roh Hoe-chan, a lawmaker in the left-wing Justice Party. Prosecutors later dismissed the case after concluding that Roh never actually received the money.

The files obtained by the police on Tuesday revealed that the online tinkering by Druking and his associates date back to October 2016, when the public was calling for President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment. Since then, the group has fiddled with up to 70,000 comments, about 100 a day, according to the police. Most of the comments were under news articles on Naver and related to Park’s impeachment and the election that followed.

Investigators said the evidence confirms Druking’s longstanding ties with Kim and that the blogger relayed information about his group’s activities to the lawmaker. When the police questioned Kim as a witness last Friday, the lawmaker said he thought Druking’s campaign mainly involved positive comments rather than smearing.

After further analysis of the files, the police will decide on whether to seek a search warrant for Kim’s financial and communication records. The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office rejected a previous request on grounds of insufficient evidence.

The 200 members of Kyungkongmo involved in the political donations may also be subject to investigation. In an interview with The Hankyoreh, a local daily, on April 23, an unnamed member of the group said Druking’s political activities were primarily aimed at achieving the group’s “grand project”: a village in Paju, Gyeonggi, exclusive to its members.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]