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(EDITORIAL from Korea Herald on Aug. 3)

All News 07:17 August 03, 2018

Evidence piling up
: Special counsel hones in on close associate of President Moon

The team of special counsel Huh Ik-bum investigating a high-profile online opinion-rigging case raided the offices and residence of South Gyeongsang Gov. Kim Kyoung-soo on Thursday. It is a belated move, but Huh’s team should be cheered on.

The raid, based on a court-issued warrant, reflects the accumulation of evidence pointing to a close, suspicious relationship between Kim and another key figure in the case, a detained power blogger whose internet alias is “Druking.”

Before the raid, the special investigation team said that it had secured a USB drive that included text messages Kim and Druking exchanged through private, encrypted mobile messenger apps.

In January 2017, Kim -- then-chief spokesman for President Moon Jae-in, who was a presidential candidate -- and Druking discussed policy proposals on how to reform family-controlled chaebol. Moon addressed the issue in a forum at the National Assembly four days after Druking delivered a report to Kim.

One month later, Kim and Druking discussed plans to expand the inter-Korean industrial park in Kaesong, North Korea. Moon made a speech five days later based on suggestions made by the power blogger who led an online community.

These two cases show that through Kim, Druking and his online community acted as a policy advisory group for Moon, who, in the wake of the impeachment trial of former President Park Geun-hye, was emerging as a strong favorite in the election.

The text messages also counter Kim’s argument that Druking and his online community were merely one of many groups that volunteered to help Moon’s presidential campaign.

This argument has already been discredited by investigators’ findings and Druking’s testimonies. Furthermore, there must be some reason behind communicating via private, encrypted mobile messengers.

In addition, a previous investigation has discovered more text messages Kim and Druking exchanged over the latter’s alleged manipulation of online opinion.

There was some money involved in the Kim-Druking relationship, too. Kim’s former aide admitted to having received 5 million won ($4,460) from Druking and returned it only after the latter’s arrest; and Druking gave 1 million won to another close associate of President Moon, Song In-bae, now the presidential secretary for political affairs, in return for speaking at a forum.

A piece of evidence that corroborated Druking’s testimonies is the late lawmaker Roh Hoe-chan’s admission that he took money from the power blogger. Roh took his own life last month, leaving a note in which he said he had taken 40 million won ($36,000) from Druking but that he neither solicited it nor given any favors in return.

All these latest developments show that Druking -- whose relationship with Kim turned sour over a failure to get members of his online community government positions -- was largely telling the truth.

It is against this backdrop that the special counsel may even have to look into possible misconduct -- which some even regard as a cover-up -- on the part of the police, which had investigated the case for about five months before the launch of the special investigation.

At the center of the suspicion is Seoul police Chief Lee Ju-min, who has come under fire for lying about the relationship between Kim and Druking.

In the initial stages of the investigation, Lee was busy relaying Kim’s defense of himself. Lee, who worked with Kim at Cheong Wa Dae during the Roh Moo-hyun administration, acknowledged the facts about what happened between Kim and Druking only after news reports came out to discredit his and Kim’s previous comments.

The special counsel team found cellphones and USIM chips in places where police investigators had already searched. Police did not question Song, who allegedly introduced Druking to Kim, and did not seek a search-and-arrest warrant against Kim and Song.

These aspects raise suspicions that the police attempted to let the close associates of the president off. The fact that Lee survived the recent reshuffle of senior police officers, even though a man three years junior to him in police experience became the national police chief, strengthens such a suspicion.

The special counsel team said it plans to question Kim as a “suspect” soon. There is ample reason why we should closely watch the ongoing investigation, which, if necessary, should look into negligence on the part of the police.

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