Admission of failureAn independent prosecutor’s probe into a highly explosive case involving a systematic online opinion rigging scheme in elections has ended. A team led by special prosecutor Huh Ik-bum on Monday announced the results of its investigations without requesting its probe be extended.
Huh, a former prosecutor, decided to indict Kim Dong-won, better known by his blogger moniker Druking, his two associates and South Gyeongsang Gov. Kim Kyoung-soo on charges of collusion to sway the results of elections through manipulating online comments and violating the law on public servants’ elections. Gov. Kim is also suspected of asking Druking for help in methodically posting “likes” on comments in favor of Kim in the June 13 local elections. Whether the suspects committed a crime will be determined by a court.
Many people believe the independent counsel’s investigation was, in fact, a failure. That’s not because the team was unable to detain Gov. Kim for further investigations, but because its investigation fell way short of getting to the bottom of the case. Since it was discovered that Gov. Kim had been involved in the online comments manipulation orchestrated by Druking and his associates last spring ahead of the local elections, suspicions arose over the possibility that the Moon Jae-in camp was also involved in a similar online rigging campaign in the last presidential election in May 2017 after the ouster of President Park Geun-hye. Of course, Gov. Kim may have been involved in the rigging scheme alone. But the problem is that the special investigation team did not even try to summon Moon’s campaign aides to clear such suspicions. The independent counsel’s decision to not ask for an extension of his probe reflects a lack of its determination to thoroughly examine the case.
The case returns to the criminal justice system. It is hard to expect prosecutors to dig into the remaining suspicions. In fact, the prosecution refused to accept the police’s request to confiscate Gov. Kim’s financial records for further investigation.
The case has been in the spotlight because the act of manipulating public opinion constitutes a serious threat to a modern day democracy. The National Assembly allotted a 3 billion won (＄2.69 million) budget for the investigation. Amid political attacks from each side, what really happened still remains unknown.
The case will likely lead to more online opinion rigging, which will only confuse voters. The independent counsel’s charge of “obstruction of business,” for instance, can hardly prevent such cases from taking place again as the court can hardly hand down heavy punishment on such charges.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 28, Page 30