The prosecution is investigating the election-meddling scandal surrounding the covert online operation by National Intelligence Service personnel to help then-conservative presidential candidate Park Geun-hye beat her rival and incumbent President Moon Jae-in.
|Min Byung-joo (Yonhap)|
The NIS retirees formed the biggest team, comprising more than 150 people, out of about 30 such “cyber teams” tasked with creating comments and posts in favor of Park and critical of Moon on social media and news sites, according to the prosecution. Run by the NIS’ psychological warfare agents, each cyber team mostly had internet-savvy civilians as team members.
A director of the NIS retirees’ team, surnamed Roh, reportedly said that the number of people involved in the illicit online campaign was about 20 to 30 in his unit, and later grew to 150. As the size of the team got bigger, Roh appointed two people under him to help manage them.
The prosecution are considering whether to seek arrest warrants for two retired officials of the NIS, including Roh, given their team’s systematic and active involvement in the secret operation. Roh alone posted more than 9,000 comments on a portal site, a local news agency reported.
In a rare statement, the prosecution criticized the court for rejecting the issuance of the arrest warrants for them and thus hampering its efforts to investigate a case deemed critical to public interest.
On Wednesday, prosecutors summoned Min Byung-joo, ex-head of the psychological warfare team in the NIS, as a suspect.
Min, who received a suspended term for the NIS’s interference in the 2012 election, faces allegations that he took charge of the secret operation to sway voters in favor of Park. In the first grilling session, which lasted for 14 hours last week, he admitted to running the operation under the orders of NIS chief Won Sei-hoon.
Along with Min, Won, who led the NIS from 2009 to 2013 under the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration, was sentenced to four years in prison for ordering the online campaign to boost support for Park.
Park defeated Moon by a narrow margin, to become the country’s first female president in the 2012 vote. She was removed from office over a corruption scandal, and is now detained while on trial facing charges including bribery and abuse of power.
After President Moon took office, a task force was formed to look into the spy agency’s alleged interference in the election and domestic politics, as a part of his campaign to eradicate “deep-rooted evil” laid bare by a corruption scandal that brought down Park.
Reforming the nation’s spy agency and freeing it from political influence was one of the key campaign promises made by Moon, who himself was the target of the smear campaign by the NIS.
The probe is expanding to involve former President Lee and his staff, with the prosecution looking into the allegations that the spy agency also created a blacklist of liberal cultural figures to oppress them under the Lee administration.