The special counsel team investigating South Gyeongsang Gov. Kim Kyoung-soo’s alleged involvement in an online opinion-rigging scandal is expected to indict Kim without detention as its probe officially ends Saturday.
Special counsel Huh Ik-bum began the investigation two months ago after President Moon Jae-in accepted opposition parties’ monthslong demands to scrutinize Kim’s dealings with a blogger who has been detained and indicted for allegedly manipulating public opinion through a software that ramps up the number of “agree” clicks to internet news comments.
Huh’s team can request by Wednesday for an extension of the legal duration of its independent investigative rights. It can investigate for another 30 days upon the president’s approval.
If Huh fails to conclude the probe within the given term, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office will take over the case.
Last week, the special counsel requested for a warrant to detain Kim on charges of obstruction of business. The court declined to issue the warrant early Saturday, saying the charges against Kim are disputable and he presented little flight risk given his current position as a governor.
This gives Huh’s team little reason to request for an extension. It also has little time to request for a court warrant again, with just five days left till its investigative rights expire.
The special counsel’s team has told the press numerous times that Gov. Kim had colluded with the blogger Kim Dong-won, known as Druking, which means it is likely to indict him.
It remains to be seen, however, whether it will indict him on the charge of violation of the election law, in addition to colluding to obstruct business.
The special counsel has looked into whether the governor violated the election law by asking for Druking’s help ahead of the local elections in June.
The investigators, however, did not obtain enough testimony and evidence to include those charges in its request for a court warrant last week.
As it nears the end of its probe, the special counsel team is expected to focus on corroborative investigation to prepare for trials and decide whether to indict the suspects booked with regards to the case.
In addition to Gov. Kim, the special counsel has booked his former assistant surnamed Han, Druking’s associates and lawyers surnamed Doh and Yoon.
It will also review whether to indict presidential secretaries Song In-bae and Paik Won-woo whose status they considered shifting to suspects.
Survey results released Monday showed that Koreans were divided over whether the special counsel’s investigation should be extended.
According to a survey of 502 adults nationwide conducted by the pollster Realmeter and commissioned by broadcaster CBS, 45.5 percent supported the extension, while 41.3 percent were against it.
Among those who said they supported the conservative opposition Liberty Korea Party, 81.8 percent supported the extension. Sixty-nine percent of supporters of the minor Bareunmirae Party and 59.7 percent of those who do not align themselves with a political party were for the extension.
Only 24.9 percent of supporters of the ruling Democratic Party and 23.4 percent of those who support the progressive Justice Party were for the extension.
Druking and members of an online community that he led worked as campaign volunteers for President Moon during the presidential election last year. They met with Gov. Kim, who was then Moon’s camp spokesman, several times, and allegedly showed him how their software works.
Druking turned his back on Kim and Moon after Kim turned down the blogger’s request to appoint his lawyer friends to official positions in overseas diplomatic missions.
Druking’s group used the software to ramp up the number of “agree” clicks on online news comments critical of the Moon administration in January, and the ruling party asked for a police investigation.
A large number of Koreans read news through internet portals such as Naver or Daum, which run comments sections to articles. In addition to the articles picked as top stories by the portals, readers’ comments that get the most “agree” clicks -- which are displayed at the top of the comments section -- are believed to greatly influence public opinion.
By Kim So-hyun (email@example.com