Police to charge Ohm staffers for illegal call center

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Police to charge Ohm staffers for illegal call center

Gangneung Police yesterday sought warrants against three staff members of Ohm Ki-young’s election campaign on charges of violating election laws by hiring people to make phone calls in Gangneung urging Gangwon residents to vote for Ohm in Wednesday’s by-elections.

Ohm, former president of broadcaster MBC, is running in the Gangwon gubernatorial election on the Grand National Party ticket. He is competing against his former MBC colleague Choi Moon-soon of the Democratic Party. Choi also is a former MBC president.

According to police, three people including a 39-year-old man surnamed Kwon rented a pension in Gangneung and secretly set up an illegal election campaign camp supporting Ohm.

The campaign hired 28 people to make phone calls to Gangwon residents to entreat voters to cast ballots for Ohm in Wednesday’s election. Given that the pension was not registered as a campaign office with the National Election Commission, police said it was against the law to campaign there.

Police are scrutinizing cell phone records to determine whether Ohm was behind the illegal campaigning.

Police raided the pension on Friday and arrested 31 people in connection with the operation. The raid was carried out after police received a tip from the opposition Democratic Party. The callers allegedly were given free meals and 50,000 won ($46) per day. The 28 callers were released at about 11 p.m. Saturday after being questioned by police.

Although Ohm flatly denied his involvement in the operation and insisted that it was purely volunteer work done by Gangwon residents who support him, his opponents used the incident as a chance to attack him.

The DP said yesterday that Ohm should resign and that it will ask for a prosecutors’ probe into the matter today. “People who were hired at the GNP’s illegal makeshift call center used Daepo phones [phones registered under fake, stolen or borrowed identities],” DP Secretary General Lee Nak-yon said at a press conference yesterday. “How could this be considered volunteer work? Of the three people who are awaiting warrants, two are GNP members and other person is a former leader of the Gangneung young men’s association. They booked the pension about a month ago, and this indicates Ohm has been illegally campaigning, since he was a candidate in the GNP primary for the Gangwon governor post. Ohm must resign.”

GNP chose Ohm as its gubernatorial candidate for Gangwon on April 4 after Ohm beat two rivals by garnering 57.4 percent of the vote in the primary.

GNP Chairman Ahn Sang-soo said at a press briefing yesterday, “What happened in Gangwon is regretful.” But he claimed Ohm was not involved in the matter. “It was volunteer work done by volunteers supporting Ohm,” Ahn said.

Ahn argued that the DP itself has been involved in bad politics. Ahn said Choi sent text messages to Gangwon residents with false information, quoting broadcaster SBS that a recent poll showed Choi just 1 percent behind Ohm. “We already asked police to investigate this matter [for spreading false information].” The GNP said SBS didn’t report such a poll, and Choi’s camp later clarified that it was a mistake. A Choi campaign official said the April 18 text message was not fact-checked when it was sent after a campaign official saw an Internet item saying that SBS reported such news on April 15.

By Kim Mi-ju [mijukim@joongang.co.kr]

한글 관련 기사 [중앙일보]
엄기영 측 “최문순, 허위문자 22만건 발송” …
최문순 측 “엄기영, 콜센터 조직적 개입”

강원지사, 돌출 변수에 술렁

한나라당 엄기영 후보가 민주당 최문순 후보를 여론조사상 앞서가던 4·27 강원도지사 보궐선거 가도에 ‘불법 전화방’(콜센터)이란 변수가 돌출했다.

강릉경찰서는 24일 김모(37), 권모(39)씨 등 2명에 대해 공직선거법 위반 혐의(불법 선거운동사무소 설치 등)로 구속영장을 신청했다. 또 일당 5만원을 받기로 하고 선거운동을 한 장모(47·여)씨 등 28명을 불구속 입건했다. 김씨 등은 강릉 경포대 인근의 펜션을 빌린 뒤 장씨를 포함한 30명을 5개 조로 나눠 유권자들에게 엄기영 후보를 찍어달라고 전화 홍보를 하게 한 혐의다. 하지만 경찰은 이들이 엄 후보 측과 관계가 있는지에 대해선 “추가 조사가 필요하다”는 입장이다.

엄 후보 측은 긴급히 진화에 나섰다. 엄 후보는 이날 원주·춘천 유세 도중 기자들과 만나 “(민주당) 최문순 후보가 천안함 폭침이 북한 소행이라는 정부 발표를 믿지 않는다는 입장을 보이자 나의 열성 지지자들이 (화가 나서) 자원봉사에 나선 것”이라고 말했다. 그러면서 “콜센터는 나와 무관하다”고 해명했다.

 안상수 대표도 엄 후보에 대한 ‘엄호’에 나섰다. 안 대표는 이날 기자회견에서 “최 후보 측이 (강원도 판세에 대해) ‘1% 초박빙’이라는 허위 문자메시지를 22만 명에게 무작위로 발송했다”고 맞불을 놓았다. 안 대표는 “(허위 문자메시지 발송을) 선관위에 신고하고 검찰에 고발하는 걸 검토 중”이라고 덧붙였다.

 민주당은 불법 전화 홍보를 한 이들과 엄 후보의 관계를 물고 늘어졌다. 우상호 강원도 선거대책위원회 대변인은 “이 사건을 자원봉사자들의 실수로 몰아가려 하지만 어떻게 자원봉사자들이 비용을 조달해가며 선거운동을 하겠느냐”며 “후보와 캠프가 조직적·계획적으로 개입한 거대 불법 선거운동사건”이라고 주장했다.

 이낙연 사무총장은 “(선거법상) 받은 일당 5만원과 식사비의 50배를 물어내야 하는 아주머니들을 생각해 엄 후보는 자진 사퇴해야한다”고 압박했다. 민주당은 이날 엄 후보를 검찰에 고발키로 했다.

 서로 ‘검찰 고발’ 카드까지 뽑아든 채로 양측은 사건의 파장을 주시했다. 엄 후보 측은 “민주당의 네거티브 공세가 오히려 역풍을 부를 것”(최수영 언론특보)이란 입장이지만 최 후보 측은 “반전의 계기가 될 것”(우상호 대변인)이라고 봤다.
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