+ A

Moon’s secretary met with Druking associates

May 22,2018
A political blogger known as Druking who allegedly used software to rig public opinion for - and later against - President Moon Jae-in had more ties to Moon’s aides and confidants than previously thought.

The Blue House found in an internal investigation that Moon’s personal secretary, Song In-bae, met with members of the blogger’s political group before last year’s presidential election, when they allegedly engaged in suspicious online activities to support Moon, then a candidate.

“Song met with members of the group four times,” Kim Eui-kyeom, the Blue House’s press secretary, said during a briefing on Monday. “The first was in June 2016.”

An acquaintance of Song who volunteered in his failed National Assembly run in 2016 first suggested the meeting. The acquaintance was part of Druking’s group. Some members allegedly requested that Song bring Kim Kyoung-soo, a former lawmaker with close ties to Moon.

“It is normal for campaign members to meet lots of people during election season,” Kim Eui-kyeom said. “Song was simply doing that in bringing Kim Kyoung-soo to the meeting. We found that Song did not meet with Druking after the election, so that was the end of the Blue House’s investigation.”

According to the Blue House, Song voluntarily requested the internal probe after Kim Kyoung-soo held a news conference on April 16 about his alleged connection with Druking. Blue House officials questioned Song on April 20 and 26 and found he had received money from Druking’s group but found no issue with the payment.

“They insisted on paying him an honorarium for meeting them,” Kim Eui-kyeom said. “Song initially refused to take it, but they insisted. He received a total of 2 million won [$1,844], which was given to him as 1 million won each time over two times.”

The Blue House press secretary said Moon was briefed about the investigation on Monday morning. The police said they would “look into the facts of what happened.”

After the Blue House announced it had closed its case against Song, opposition parties ramped up their criticism of Moon’s Democratic Party.

“Now here is a finding that deepens suspicion about Moon’s election,” Park Joo-sun, co-chair of the Bareunmirae Party, said at a party meeting on Monday. “Song met with Druking multiple times and even introduced Druking to Kim Kyoung-soo. This must be why the Blue House has remained silent on the matter of an independent counsel and why the Democratic Party opposed a probe.”

“We see more and more of Moon’s close aides and confidants involved in the case,” Kim Dong-cheol, floor leader of the Bareunmirae Party, said during the meeting. “President Moon has to say something publicly about the illegal campaign to manipulate public opinion in his favor.”

Druking and his associates are currently on trial for using software to manipulate comments on Naver, a portal site that many Koreans use to access news. The group allegedly posted comments and up-voted them for partisan purposes. Their current charge is limited to their activities after the election, when they allegedly turned on Moon because his office denied its members patronage positions.

The case has divided the ruling and opposition parties, which have used it as a political football to stall legislation. After weeks of gridlock, the National Assembly passed a bill on Monday to mandate an independent counsel probe into the case.

Their disagreement stemmed from who the investigation should cover and how long it should last.

The parties agreed that the counsel’s mandate will last 60 days, with an option to extend for 30 more days. The team will consist of 87 people, and the Korean Bar Association will nominate four candidates to lead them.

The opposition parties will narrow the field down to two, and Moon will select the head counsel from the two.

According to the bill, the investigation will include the online manipulation conducted by Druking and his associates, illegal acts by related suspects, allegations of bribery and “other related cases.”

Kim Kyoung-soo, the former lawmaker, may be questioned. The police have already questioned him as a witness earlier this month on whether he had ordered or was aware of the use of the software that Druking and his group used. He was also asked about 5 million won that one of his aides received from Druking’s group.

Although Kim denied any connection to Druking in a news conference last month, the blogger said in a letter sent to the Chosun Ilbo, a local daily, last week that Kim had “confirmed in person” how the software works and that there were other members of the group who witnessed the conversation. Last month, authorities also uncovered text messages between Kim and Druking from January to March 2017, in which Kim asked Druking to promote articles related to Moon.

Druking said in his letter that he had requested Kim recommend two of his associates to the Democratic Party’s election committee in return for “their work during Moon’s campaign,” and when one of them didn’t make it to the committee, he asked for the ambassadorship to Japan.

According to Druking, Kim refused this request but later called to offer the job of consul general in Sendai, Japan, to the associate. Druking did not take the offer. Kim denied the allegations from the letter.

On Monday, a new allegation surfaced that Kim had given 1 million won in cash to Druking.

A member of the blogger’s group exclusively told the JoongAng Ilbo that Kim handed over an envelope to Druking at his office in Paju, Gyeonggi, when the lawmaker visited in October 2016.

“The members present all clapped,” the source said. “Druking said there was 1 million won inside the envelope, and we all ordered pizza with the money.”

Authorities are investigating the allegation.

BY HYUN IL-HOON, ESTHER CHUNG and WIE MOON-HEE [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]