|South Gyeongsang Province Governor Kim Kyoung-soo closes his eyes while answering reporters' questions at the entrance to the provincial government building in Changwon, Wednesday, after the Supreme Court confirmed a two-year jail term imposed on him after he was found guilty of online opinion rigging. Yonhap|
Top court confirms South Gyeongsang Province governor's 2-year jail term, strips him of position
By Kim Rahn
The Supreme Court has upheld the conviction and two-year prison sentence imposed on South Gyeongsang Province Governor Kim Kyoung-soo for online opinion manipulation, thus stripping him of the governorship and preventing him from running for election to public office for nearly seven years.
The ruling dealt a heavy blow to not only the political career of Kim, one of the closest aides to President Moon Jae-in, but also the entire ruling bloc as the guilty verdict recognized that an attempt to rig public opinion had taken place ahead of the 2017 presidential election.
The court upheld the decision by the district and high courts that sentenced him to two years imprisonment for colluding with a group of bloggers, led by Kim Dong-won who used the ID "Druking," to manipulate public sentiment on web portals such as Naver in favor of the then-liberal opposition candidate Moon ahead of the presidential election.
Druking's group claimed they had shown Kim computer software that could rig the number of "likes" on political comments; while Kim insisted he had not been aware of the software. But the district, high and top courts did not acknowledge Kim's claim.
However, the Supreme Court did uphold a not guilty verdict from the high court on the allegation he offered a consul general position in Sendai, Japan, to an aide of Druking in return for the manipulation.
Kim was not immediately taken into custody after the top court verdict ― his imprisonment is likely to take place in a couple of days following administrative procedures.
Upon the ruling, Kim was removed from his governor position immediately, as an elected public official loses his or her post when a court hands down a jail sentence or heavier penalty for a criminal case.
After the district court ruling in January 2019, he was jailed for 77 days before being given bail. As such, he will be behind bars for over 21 months to serve the remaining term.
He will also be disqualified from running in elections for five years after his prison term ends, according to the Civil Servants Law, so any return to the political arena will not be possible for around seven years.
This will seriously dent the political career of Kim, who had often been called the "next Moon Jae-in" and was expected to take higher positions in the ruling bloc and even run for the presidency someday.
After the verdict, Kim said the legal case was "insufficient" to reveal the truth. "But I'll keep believing that the truth will return someday," he told reporters as he left the provincial government building.
|Special counsel Huh Ik-bum, front center, speaks while leaving the Supreme Court in southern Seoul, Wednesday, after the court upheld a jail sentence for South Gyeongsang Province Governor Kim Kyoung-soo over online opinion manipulation. Yonhap|
On the other hand, Huh Ik-bum, the special counsel who led the team investigating the case, said, "This court decision is a warning to politicians and people who will engage in elections in the future that they should compete fairly."
While ruling bloc figures expressed regret over the ruling, the opposition has demanded an apology from President Moon and the ruling Democratic Party of Korea.
"The verdict will continue to do huge damage to the Moon administration's legitimacy," a main opposition People Power Party spokeswoman Hwangbo Seung-hee said in a commentary.
PPP lawmaker Hong Joon-pyo and the minor opposition People's Party head Ahn Cheol-soo, who were rivals of Moon in the 2017 election, also attacked the President.
"If Moon became president through manipulated public opinion, isn't it right for him to make a public apology?" Hong wrote on Facebook, saying Kim was Moon's secretary at the time of the election and thus Moon might have been an accomplice.
Ahn also wrote on Facebook that everyone knows who benefitted the most from the crime committed by Kim and the Druking group. "I urge Moon to apologize to the people of Korea whose right to know the truth has been infringed on by the crime."