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South Gyeongsang governor denies collusion on opinion-rigging scandal

South Gyeongsang Province Gov. Kim Kyoung-soo flatly denied alleged collusion with a power blogger in a massive opinion-rigging scheme, questioning the credibility of testimonies by the blogger’s close associates.

After the first court hearing that lasted about 14 hours, Gov. Kim reiterated his denial.

“Those who watched the testimonies of the witnesses will be able to make the (right) judgment. I will sincerely follow the remaining legal procedures,” Kim said upon leaving Seoul Central District Court at around 11:45 p.m. on Monday.

South Gyeongsang Provincial Gov. Kim Kyoung-soo (Yonhap)
South Gyeongsang Provincial Gov. Kim Kyoung-soo (Yonhap)

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 of the ruling party and a key associate of President Moon Jae-in, was elected as governor in the June 13 local elections.

During the hearing, a close aide to Druking surnamed Yang testified about a meeting between 10 members of their group and the now-governor held inside the organization’s headquarters in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, on Jan. 10 last year.

To the prosecutor’s question, “Did Gov. Kim say he reported about the group’s work to President Moon Jae-in? Did he say he will protect your group?” Yang answered, “Yes.” He also said Kim directly told them the same at the meeting.

“So the members there all clapped and cheered when Kim said that,” he said.

Moon was a prominent presidential candidate of the liberal Democratic Party at the time.

Another witness surnamed Park, a close aide of Druking and member of his organization, testified he had created an online fan club site for Kim, dubbed “Milky Kim Kyoung-soo,” upon receiving the order from Druking.

Including members of Druking’s organization, some 1,400 supporters joined the fan club, but it was abolished after relations between Kim and Druking soured around the end of 2017.

Park also claimed his group “manipulated the comments on the articles that were sent by Gov. Kim.” In their group chat on Telegram, Druking would leave links to articles, with those labeled “AAA” indicating that they were from Gov. Kim, Park explained.

Druking and his organization were found to have used an illegal program dubbed “King Crab” to produce millions of fake comments. Park claimed that Gov. Kim was not only aware of the program, but that it was he who approved its use.

According to Park, Gov. Kim was introduced to the automated program King Crab on Nov. 9, 2016 during a visit to the group’s Paju headquarters.

“Druking and his aide surnamed Woo demonstrated the program in front Gov. Kim,” Park said.

Park was in charge of scrolling down pages on the screen. When their demonstration pages reached a page with “Top secret on King Crab” written in Korean, he and all other members except for Gov. Kim were told to leave the room, Park said.

The governor has admitted he visited the Paju headquarters on the cited date, but said he was not introduced to the software. His lawyers focused their argument on the credibility of testimonies given by witnesses close to Druking.

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

An independent counsel team led by special prosecutor Huh Ik-bum indicted Gov. Kim on charges of obstruction of business and violation of the election law in August, after a 60-day special probe into the case concluded he had supervised the group’s illicit activities.

The second hearing in Kim’s trial is to be held on Nov. 16.

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