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[Editorial] Deer or horse?

State prosecution should speed up investigation into governor’s wife

There are many reasons the state prosecution should hasten its investigation into allegations that Gyeonggi Province Gov. Lee Jae-myung’s wife used Twitter posts to attack her husband’s political rivals, with some of the posts containing false information and defamatory comments.

At stake is the governorship of the nation’s largest provincial government. If the prosecution’s investigation and consequent court trial result in the conviction of Kim Hye-kyung with a fine of 3 million won ($2,650) or a heavier penalty, Lee will lose his position as mayor.

The main issue in the case is whether Kim is the real owner of a Twitter account that was used to support Lee and attack his political opponents. Lee has said the account is not his wife‘s.

However, police, after investigating the case for the past seven months, said last week that they believed the Twitter account belonged to the governor’s wife and that they were handing over the case to the state prosecution with a suggestion to indict her,

If the police investigation turns out to be true, it means that the wife of an election candidate used social media to make false accusations and defamatory comments against her husband’s rivals, which constitute serious violations of the election law.

Indeed, the Twitter posts, which started in 2013, were indiscriminate. Even President Moon Jae-in was one of the prime targets during the presidential nomination race of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, in which Lee finished a distant third.

For instance, a tweet during the nomination campaign accused Moon’s son of landing a job at a public institution in 2012 on the back of his father’s influence. Authorities failed to find convincing evidence to back the allegation.

During campaigning for local elections in June, the same Twitter user wrote that Rep. Jeon Hae-cheol, who was trailing behind Lee in the ruling party’s nomination race for the Gyeonggi gubernatorial candidacy, was collaborating with the main conservative opposition Liberty Korea Party. The police investigation was prompted by Jeon’s suit against the tweet.

Another reason the prosecution should complete its investigation quickly and fairly is that the public has the right to know whether Lee -- a major politician with presidential ambitions -- is lying.

Lee, a lawyer-turned-progressive politician, has emerged as a strong potential presidential candidate in recent years, though he has constantly been plagued by ethical scandals.

He had been under investigation over allegations that he abused his authority when he was mayor of Seongnam to force his brother into a mental institution in 2012. He has also faced allegations about an extramarital affair with an actress and a relationship with an organized crime ring. These are not small matters when the man implicated is one who wants to take the highest elected office in the country.

On top of these controversies, the latest case already has big political repercussions. The ruling Democratic Party has said that everyone should wait for the outcome of the prosecution’s investigation, but some loyal supporters of Moon are demanding that Lee quit the party and step down as governor.

The opposition Liberty Korea Party has also demanded Lee’s immediate resignation. It is jumping at the chance to inflict damage on the ruling party and one of its potential leaders. But any excessive politicization of the case could backfire, therefore the party should wait for the outcome of judiciary proceedings.

On his way to work on Monday, Lee furiously rejected the police decision, arguing that he was the victim of a “politically motivated” case. He quoted an old saying, “Even if someone points to a deer and insists that it is a horse, a deer is a deer.”

The truth will be determined by the prosecution and the court. Lee’s job for now is to be faithful to his gubernatorial duties, refrain from any further political comments and comply with judiciary procedures.