Prosecutors deny protecting lawmaker

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Prosecutors deny protecting lawmaker

Prosecutors on Tuesday refuted a suspect’s claim that they tried to downplay a former lawmaker’s involvement in a Democratic Party campaign to manipulate online opinion for partisan purposes.

The suspect, a political blogger named Kim Dong-won who goes by the online alias Druking, said in a letter to the Chosun Ilbo, a local daily, last Thursday that prosecutors tried to cover up former Rep. Kim Kyoung-soo’s role in rigging online opinion in favor of President Moon Jae-in during last year’s election. When he tried to give testimony related to Kim during a meeting with prosecutors, he said they “didn’t try to listen.”

Prosecutors refuted the claim and said they were willing to release tapes of a 50-minute meeting with Druking from May 14 to prove their side.

Druking is currently on trial for using software to manipulate the comments section on Naver, a major portal site that Koreans use to access news, for political gain.

Prosecutors said Druking told them during their 50-minute meeting that he would cooperate with the investigation if law enforcement authorities “downsized” their probe, released him on parole and allowed his associates to go unpunished.

After prosecutors asked how they could downsize the probe, the meeting quickly ended, according to the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office.

Druking’s lawyer on Monday denied that his client asked prosecutors to scale down their investigation of him. The lawyer urged prosecutors to reveal the tapes of the meeting, which he said lasted 90 minutes, not 50.

The blogger’s next trial hearing is scheduled for May 30 at the Seoul Central District Court. Prosecutors said they might reveal the tapes during a press briefing or submit them to the court as evidence.

Druking and his associates are accused of posting and up-voting comments in favor of President Moon during last year’s election, when he was a candidate, and later turning on him after his office allegedly denied them patronage positions.

Kim Kyoung-soo, a former lawmaker who is running for South Gyeongsang governor, allegedly worked with the group because of his close ties with Moon. In his letter to the Chosun Ilbo, Druking said Kim had “confirmed in person” how the rigging software works.

Last month, police uncovered text messages between Kim and Druking from January to March 2017, in which Kim asked the blogger to promote articles related to Moon, to which Druking mostly replied that he would “handle” them.

Kim has acknowledged knowing Druking but denied any involvement in opinion manipulation.

On Monday, the National Assembly passed a 3.83 trillion won ($3.55 billion) supplementary budget and a bill to mandate an independent counsel probe into the opinion rigging case, but Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon only green-lighted the budget, to the ire of opposition parties.

An official from Lee’s office said the supplementary budget was approved right away because of its “urgent” nature, but the Ministry of Government Legislation needed more time to review the counsel mandate.

The official said Lee expects to approve the bill next Tuesday when the next cabinet meeting is scheduled.

Rep. Kim Sung-won of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party accused the Democratic Party and the Moon government of colluding to delay the probe.

Another opposition spokesperson suggested the Blue House was postponing a decision to prevent an independent counsel investigation from denting the Democratic Party’s approval ratings leading up to the elections on June 13.

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