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Gov. Kim ordered manipulation of online comments: witness

A witness said he manipulated online comments on South Gyeongsang Province Gov. Kim Kyoung-soo’s orders, in Kim’s first court hearing for his involvement in a massive opinion-rigging scandal, Monday.

“I am starting a new journey to shed light on the truth of this case. I will sincerely follow all the legal procedures and do my best to make sure the truth is clarified via the court trials,” said Gov. Kim, appearing in front of Seoul Central District Court at 9:46 a.m. to attend the hearing.

Gov. Kim faces charges of colluding with power blogger Kim Dong-won, nicknamed “Druking” to manipulate millions of online comments to sway public opinion in favor of the Democratic Party of Korea. Gov. Kim, a former lawmaker and key associate of President Moon Jae-in, has denied all the allegations.

South Gyeongsang Province Gov. Kim Kyoung-soo, center, appears at Seoul Central District Court on Monday to attend the first hearing of the trial on his alleged involvement in an online opinion-rigging scandal. (Yonhap)
South Gyeongsang Province Gov. Kim Kyoung-soo, center, appears at Seoul Central District Court on Monday to attend the first hearing of the trial on his alleged involvement in an online opinion-rigging scandal. (Yonhap)
“The economy and the livelihoods of South Gyeongsang Province are still facing difficulties, and I would like to apologize again to the people for raising concerns,” the governor said.

Druking and members of his group are standing trial over obstruction of business for using illegal automated software dubbed “King Crab” to generate fake online comments, among other charges.

An independent counsel team led by special prosecutor Huh Ik-bum conducted a 60-day special investigation into the case, and concluded in August that the blogger’s group had acted under Gov. Kim’s supervision. The prosecutors indicted Kim on Aug. 24 on charges of obstruction of business and violation of election law.

During Monday’s hearing, a close aide of Druking and a group member surnamed Park testified that the group had “manipulated the comments on the articles that were sent by Gov. Kim.”

Park also reported knowing that Druking and Kim talked to each other via online messengers such as Telegram because Druking told him, Park said at the court.

In their group chat on Telegram, Druking would leave links to articles, and ones labeled “AAA” indicated they were received under orders from Kim, Park explained.

“(AAA) meant it was an article Gov. Kim ordered, and we were to work on them first,” Park said.

According to a Telegram chat record revealed by the independent counsel team at the court, Druking appeared to order his members to quickly work on articles labeled with the A’s.

The investigators suspect Kim had been introduced to and approved of using the “King Crab” software when he visited the group’s headquarters in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, in November 2016.

Asked whether he was introduced to the software on Monday, Kim said, “The question itself is wrong.”

“I have never seen (the program) and the facts need to be straightened out,” he said before entering the hearing.

The governor had previously admitted to visiting the headquarters in Paju at that time, but insisted he was never introduced to the automated program and he kept in contact with the power blogger only because Druking ran a civic support group for the Democratic Party.

During the hearing, Park testified he was told that Druking had said the development of the software could only be done with the governor’s approval.

At the hearing, Kim’s lawyer denied the witness’s claims, saying the testimony was not credible. Submitting several notes written by Druking as evidence, the lawyer said Druking had planned how to deal with the investigations and how to testify.

“(Druking’s) accomplices received these orders from Druking and have falsely testified, so their testimonies lack credibility.”

Kim is also suspected of asking Druking and his organization to help him win the governor position in the June 13 local elections, promising a consular representative position in Japan for an aide of Druking in return.

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)
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