[Editorial] Police formality

By Korea Herald

Independent counsel inevitable to investigate online opinion-rigging scandal

  • Published : May 4, 2018 - 16:45
  • Updated : May 4, 2018 - 16:53

Police questioned Rep. Kim Kyoung-soo on Friday in connection with an online public opinion manipulation scandal. In many respects, the interrogation looked like a formality.

Police had not conducted the level of preliminary investigation that should have preceded the interrogation of people implicated in a criminal case. They sought to search and seize the lawmaker’s telephone and bank accounts only last week. Even this belated move was blocked by the prosecution, which is also facing criticism for its negligence in the case.

Kim, a ruling party lawmaker who is part of President Moon Jae-in’s inner circle, is a central political figure in the scandal that has been battering the political community for months. However, the police investigation so far has beaten around the bush.

In fact, many of the details regarding the relationship between Kim and a key figure in the case, 49-year-old power blogger Kim Dong-won, whose internet nickname is “Druking,” have been disclosed by news reports.

On several occasions, the police and Rep. Kim acknowledged what happened between the lawmaker and Druking only after news reports.

For instance, the Seoul police commissioner first said that Druking sent many one-sided messages to Rep. Kim regarding his work on online posts, and the lawmaker only replied with ritual acknowledgements and greetings.

This turned out be a lie, as the two actively exchanged messages over comments on online news stories through private, encrypted mobile messengers.

As it turned out, the two had been in close contact until recently, but their relations had turned sour after Druking failed to get his associates senior government posts by using Kim’s influence. The lawmaker admitted that he conveyed Druking’s request to relevant Cheong Wa Dae officials, who eventually found the candidates lacked qualifications.

That episode alone shows how close a relationship the two had. One can also assume that Druking, who led an online community and spearheaded the rigging of comments on online news stories, might have played an important role in Moon’s presidential campaign to the degree that his group could demand senior government posts.

The allegation that one of Kim’s former aides received 5 million won ($4,600) in cash from an associate of Druking was another reason police should have hurried up with the investigation on the lawmaker.

But it was only last week that police asked the prosecution for a court-issued search and seizure warrant for Kim’s telephone and bank accounts. However, the prosecution rejected the police request, saying that allegations against Kim were not yet serious enough to seek a court warrant to secure evidence.

One wonders whether the state prosecution would have made the same decision if it had not been a case involving one of the president’s closest associates.

Police and the state prosecution are apparently giving time for Kim to “prepare for” an investigation into his ties with Druking. Kim has been given enough time to tamper with evidence if he intended to do so.

The way the police and the prosecution are dealing with the case of Kim and Druking offers a stark contrast with cases like the ongoing investigation of Hanjin Group and the probe on mobilization of government agents to manipulate online comments during the Lee Myung-bak administration.

Look at the swiftness and scale of the investigation into the Hanjin owner family, with a case that started as alleged assault developing into a major corruption investigation involving even the customs service looking into alleged smuggling cases.

Why do the police and state prosecution not investigate the “president’s man” with the same intensity and passion?

Too often we have seen the nation’s law enforcement authorities and anti-corruption agencies side with the government in power. Many cases dealt with in that way boomeranged back when a new power swept in.

It is obvious that what police and state prosecution have done regarding the Kim and Druking case show many traces of political favoritism.

Now that police have questioned Kim, attention will be on their next actions. Given past experiences, we don’t expect too much. This is why we again call for an independent counsel.