Police question associates in Druking case

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Police question associates in Druking case

Police questioned two associates of a political blogger on Thursday in a widening investigation of a byzantine scandal involving the ruling party, alleged bribery and a computer program that can manipulate comments on social media.

The two associates, lawyers by profession, are members of an online community run by the blogger Kim Dong-won. One is a 46-year-old man surnamed Yoon, and the other is a 61-year-old man surnamed Doh. Authorities suspect the blogger used his connections with President Moon Jae-in’s government to seek patronage posts for Yoon and Doh.

Kim, known online by the alias Druking, was arrested in March for allegedly using software to fiddle with comments on Naver, the most widely accessed portal site in the country. The blogger and his team would manipulate “like” counters on certain political comments to give the appearance that one opinion dominated online.

Police believe Kim used that leverage to help Moon during last year’s presidential election and then requested political appointments for his acquaintances after Moon was elected. He allegedly asked Rep. Kim Kyoung-soo, a confidant of President Moon, to recommend Yoon for an administrative position at the Blue House and Doh for the post of consul general in Osaka, Japan. Representative Kim admitted to sending their names to the president’s office.

However, the Moon administration turned down the requests. Afterward, Kim Dong-won, according to police, sent threatening text messages to the lawmaker and his former aide, mentioning a 5 million won ($4,650) transaction.

The aide had received the 5 million won from a member of Kim Dong-won’s online community in September last year. He returned the money a day after Kim was arrested in March.

Police summoned the aide for questioning this week.

Authorities are investigating whether Kim Dong-won consulted the two lawyers about his plan to request appointments from the Moon government. They are also looking into allegations that he rigged online comments sections in favor of Moon during last year’s election through his ties with Rep. Kim Kyoung-soo.

Police have unearthed text messages sent between the two men from January to March last year, in the midst of the election. The messages included links to websites and articles favorable toward Moon. Rep. Kim Kyoung-soo frequently asked Kim Dong-won to share them, and the blogger usually obliged, police said.

Kim Dong-won has not been formally charged on this thread of the case. Instead, he is currently on trial for online manipulation he allegedly committed after Moon was elected.

According to police, on the night of Jan. 17 and into the next day, the blogger and his accomplices used a program to increase the number of “likes” on comments critical of President Moon’s decision to field a joint hockey team with North Korea during the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. The act was allegedly done as retaliation for the Moon administration denying the patronage posts.

In court on Wednesday, Kim Dong-won admitted to the charge, but prosecutors requested the court proceed with his trial, saying they needed more time to sift through evidence and could unearth more accomplices. His next trial date is May 16.

Police are set to question Rep. Kim Kyoung-soo as a witness on Friday.

BY HONG SANG-JI, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]
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