|South Gyeongsang Province Governor Kim Kyoung-soo is taken into custody at Seoul Central District Court, southern Seoul, Wednesday, after receiving a two-year jail term for conspiring with a blogger to manipulate online public opinion ahead of the 2017 snap presidential election. Yonhap|
By Lee Suh-yoon
South Gyeongsang Province Governor Kim Kyoung-soo was sentenced to two years in jail Wednesday, in a court ruling that found President Moon Jae-in's longtime political ally guilty of online opinion-rigging operations ahead of the 2017 presidential election.
Kim was taken into custody immediately after the verdict was read, as a shouting match erupted between conservative group members and the governor's supporters, many of whom broke down in tears.
If the court verdict is confirmed by a high court and eventually the Supreme Court, he will be stripped of the governorship.
The guilty verdict is also likely to tarnish the Moon administration which has called for the rooting out of corruption.
"Maintaining his relationship with blogger Kim Dong-won for 18 months, Kim Kyoung-soo took part in manipulating the order of online comments under 80,000 different news articles," presiding Judge Sung Chang-ho said at the Seoul Central District Court. "This is not a simple obstruction of business for online news portal sites; it damaged the proper generation of public opinion in the online sphere."
The ruling came five months after special counsel Huh Ik-bum indicted Kim and a team of bloggers led by Kim Dong-won, better known by his online nickname Druking.
Kim Kyoung-soo, also a former ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) lawmaker who aided Moon during his 2012 and 2016 presidential campaigns, was accused of conspiring with the blogger to manipulate online public opinion by using automated software that could increase "likes" and "dislikes" of online comments to Moon's advantage in the months leading up to his presidential victory in May 2017. The software was used to produce over 99.7 million "likes" and "dislikes."
Citing the testimony of the blogger team, mobile messages and computer log files, the court said the governor was briefed regularly on the online comment manipulation of news articles, even sending Druking's team some article links himself if he wanted the same job done on them. Kim was also aware of the software, the court said.
Kim was also given an additional suspended sentence of 10 months on top of his two-year jail term for violating the Election Law. The court found Kim guilty of trying to continue the illicit dealings with the blogger team for the 2018 local elections, offering a consul general post in Japan to an associate of Druking.
|Kim Dong-won, better known by his online alias Druking, is called in for questioning by the special counsel at the prosecutors' office in Seoul, in this August file photo. Korea Times file|
Proclaiming his innocence to the end, Kim said he will appeal.
"I cannot understand the judges' decision to ignore the truth revealed in the court hearings and accept the special prosecutor's one-way claims and Druking's systematic lies," Kim said through a short letter he wrote and passed to his lawyers before being taken to Seoul Detention Center. "I will now start a long fight for the truth."
Earlier in the day, the court sentenced Druking to three-and-a-half years for online opinion-rigging and paying 5 million won ($4,480) in bribes to Governor Kim's aide. He was also given a suspended jail sentence of six months for transferring illegal campaign funds to Roh Hoe-chan, an iconic left-wing politician who committed suicide last July after this was made public.
Eleven associates complicit in opinion-rigging and soliciting deals with politicians were also handed jail sentences ranging from eight to 18 months.
The ruling ― and the following imprisonment of a standing governor in the ruling party camp ― also dealt a blow to the Moon Jae-in administration, which promised to be different from its scandal-ridden predecessor. The Park Geun-hye administration was also accused of conducting an online smear campaign against its rivals during the 2012 presidential campaign controlled by former National Intelligence Service Chief Won Sei-hoon.
Ironically, these illicit operations linked to Governor Kim were revealed in a special probe ordered by the ruling party in January, after it noted online criticisms and "fake news" about Moon and the DPK were getting a disproportionately high number of "like" votes. By then, Druking and his team had turned their back on Kim for refusing to follow through on his promise to provide a consul general post in Sendai, Japan.