Former South Korean intelligence chief gets partial conviction

September 11, 2014

By Lee Kyung-min

Former NIS chief Won Sei-hoon

Former NIS chief Won Sei-hoon

SEOUL — A court delivered an ambivalent verdict Thursday on former National Intelligence Service (NIS) chief Won Sei-hoon, who was indicted for mobilizing the spy agency to support then-presidential candidate Park Geun-hye in the lead-up to the 2012 election.

The Seoul Central District Court found Won guilty of ordering a smear campaign against her opponents in violation of the law related to NIS operations, but cleared him of breaking the Election Law.

Won, who was appointed by Park’s predecessor Lee Myung-bak, was given a prison term of two-and-a-half years and suspended for four years.

The verdict reflected an effort by the court to walk a fine line since a violation of the Election Law could be interpreted as casting doubt on the legitimacy of the election results.

“Won did not give any orders that directly aimed to have specific candidates elected or not,” the court said, explaining why he did not violate the Election Law.

“NIS agents are not allowed to participate in any activity favoring or degrading any political figures or political parties. However, using 117 Internet posts and 175 Twitter accounts, the agents, withholding their identities, actively posted and distributed comments praising government projects, while criticizing the opposition,” the court said.

“As for the second charge of engaging in activities to elect one candidate, it is hard to determine that Won had the intention or the purpose to elect one candidate,” the court added.

He was indicted in July of last year on charges of orchestrating a smear campaign in the 2012 presidential election to help the candidacy of conservative ruling Saenuri Party candidate Park.

Specifically, he was accused of ordering NIS agents, a month before the election, to post some 78,000 posts on 1,167 Twitter accounts, favoring Park and denouncing her opponent Moon Jae-in, her main opposition Democratic Party (DP) candidate.

Thus, he was accused of violating the Election Law, which bans those who hold public office from participating in political activities.

The nine NIS agents who allegedly followed orders were also indicted for violating the Election Law.

The alleged election meddling scandal dominated the media last year after it surfaced when the DP filed a report with the prosecution on Dec. 12, 2012, a week before the election.

Right after the allegation of NIS meddling in the election, Prosecutor General Chae Dong-wook, who was assigned the case, had to resign after the justice minister ordered a personal investigation into him after a local newspaper reported that he had fathered an illegitimate son.

Cheong Wae Dae denied any involvement in Chae’s resignation, but DP lawmakers argued that Chae was taken off the case for his “intensive investigation” into the scandal, which might have led to the legitimacy of Park’s presidency being questioned.

Meanwhile, Won was released from prison Tuesday after serving 14 months for embezzlement in 2009 while serving as National Intelligence Service director under former president Lee.

Won was found guilty in July last year of taking 120 million won ($132,000) in cash and an additional $40,000 from a construction company in exchange for business favors.