Ex-NIS boss charged for Twitter smear campaign

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Ex-NIS boss charged for Twitter smear campaign

A Seoul court accepted the revised indictment for the former National Intelligence Service chief to include accusations that he allegedly orchestrated a smear campaign on Twitter against the opposition candidate ahead of the 2012 presidential election.

The Seoul Central District Court approved the request from a prosecutor who led a probe into the alleged election intervention by former NIS chief Won Sei-hoon, who is already charged with another online smear campaign.

According to the updated indictment, Won allegedly ordered his “psychological warfare team” to wage a campaign against presidential candidate Moon Jae-in via Twitter, tweeting a total of 55,689 negative comments ahead of the 2012 presidential vote.

He was indicted in June for violating the Election Law, as well as breaching the agency’s internal code of conduct, which requires political neutrality for all of its members.

Won allegedly ordered his subordinates to post a total of 1,970 comments on Internet portal sites and other online forums.

“We had difficulties in reaching a decision as the claims of both sides all make sense,” the court said. “But we concluded that there is consistency between the previous charges and the new charges that the prosecution is trying to add.”

The ruling Saenuri Party and opposition Democratic Party sparred publicly over the court’s decision.

“Although the prosecution submitted 55,000 Twitter messages as evidence, there were quite a lot of tweets that were irrelevant to the election or were not written by NIS agents,” Kim Tae-heum, a spokesman of the ruling party, said in a statement yesterday. “The court is harming its own reputation by accepting all of these materials without excluding the groundless ones.”

In contrast, the DP welcomed the ruling.

“We respect the decision of the court to accept the new indictment,” Kim Kwan-young, a DP spokesman, said at a briefing yesterday. “Its decision means the NIS committed a series of crimes for a single purpose: [to promote the candidacy of Park Geun-hye over that of the DP’s Moon Jae-in].”

Won’s attorney is expected to argue that the prosecution collected its evidence in an unlawful way by arresting three NIS agents without giving prior notice to the spy agency.

Yun Seok-yeol, the prosecutor who led the NIS probe, ordered his investigators to raid houses and offices of four NIS agents and arrest three of them, through which he obtained evidence of the Twitter smear campaign.

Under current law, prosecutors or police must discuss plans to arrest NIS officials with their superiors, such as the justice minister or the head of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, and notify the NIS chief in advance of the arrests.

Yun’s superior said he didn’t approve the raids and arrests. Yun was dismissed as leader of the probe a day after the raids and has said publicly that there was pressure from above on the investigation.

Since early this year, the largest opposition party has demanded that President Park Geun-hye “apologize” for the campaign scandal, although the case was allegedly planned under the former Lee Myung-bak administration. Park has not made any public comment on the case.

BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]
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