SUWON, South Korea, Jan. 8 (Yonhap) -- A former special inspector of the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae was sentenced by a local court on Friday to a one-year prison term, suspended for two years, for leaking classified official secrets.
The Suwon District Court in Suwon, south of Seoul, handed out the suspended jail sentence to Kim Tae-woo, who worked for Cheong Wa Dae's special inspection team between July 2017 and November 2018, after convicting him on charges of divulgence of official secrets.
Kim, who was a prosecution investigator before being dispatched to Cheong Wa Dae, was indicted for leaking five items of classified information he collected from the presidential office to local media outlets from December 2018 to February 2019.
The 45-year-old Kim was accused of disclosing 16 items of alleged confidential information, including suspected bribery involving the sitting South Korean ambassador to Russia and the presidential office's alleged civilian surveillance.
Kim, as a special Cheong Wa Dae inspector, investigated public servants for corruption before being removed from the post in November 2018 and returning to the Seoul District Prosecutors Office.
Upon his return to the prosecution, Kim claimed in media interviews that South Korean Ambassador to Russia Woo Yoon-keun was suspected of taking bribes from a businessman and Cheong Wa Dae spied on private citizens and companies. Cheong Wa Dae denied all the allegations and filed a complaint with the prosecution against Kim for disclosing classified information.
Prosecutors applied the official secret divulgence charges to five of 16 information items disclosed by Kim, and the court found him guilty in four of the five cases.
The Suwon court ruled that Kim leaked classified information on pro-ruling party figures and posed threats to state functions, such as personnel reshuffles and inspections, by inciting public doubts about the president's personnel rights and the presidential office's inspection team.
"Some people were indicted due partly to the defendant's information leak. But his divulgence of information cannot be justified entirely even if parts of his acts are justified," the court said.
Kim insisted throughout court hearings that he committed justifiable acts and is eligible to be protected by the Whistleblower Protection Act, but the court rejected his claim, saying he could have raised the issues by reporting formally to investigative agencies or the Board of Audit and Inspection.
Kim told reporters that he will appeal his sentence.
During his stint at Cheong Wa Dae's special inspection team, Kim worked under the supervision of then-senior presidential secretary for civil affairs Cho Kuk, a close aide to President Moon Jae-in.
Cho, who briefly served as justice minister in late 2019, has been indicted for suspending Cheong Wa Dae's internal investigation into suspected bribery involving former Busan Vice Mayor Yoo Jae-soo following Kim's report on the case in 2017.
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