Prosecutors raid homes of more reporters who ran stories about alleged malfeasance by Yoon

Posted on : 2023-10-27 16:38 KST Modified on : 2023-10-27 16:38 KST
Repeated raids on journalists who ran stories vetting Yoon before his election as president are being criticized as political and aimed at constraining the freedom of the press
Graphic by Go Yun-gyeol.
Graphic by Go Yun-gyeol.

As part of an investigation into alleged meddling and manipulation of public opinion and false reporting that defamed presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol in last year’s election, Korean prosecutors raided the homes of three current and former reporters. Prosecutors’ repeated raids on journalists who engaged in the kind of no-holds-barred vetting that is essential for any presidential candidate is being criticized as political behavior that has a seriously chilling effect on the freedom of the press.

On Thursday, the special investigations team at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, under Kang Baek-sin, raided the residences of one former reporter and one current reporter at the Kyunghyang Shinmun, a daily newspaper, and one reporter at Newsverse, a news website. The reporters are accused of defamation under the Act on Promotion of Information and Communications Network Utilization and Information Protection.

Prosecutors have already raided both the offices of television broadcaster JTBC and news websites Newstapa and Repoact and the homes of implicated reporters on the grounds that it was defamatory to report on unfavorable allegations about Yoon during his presidential campaign. Now the number of media outlets under investigation has increased to five, and the period of reporting that’s under scrutiny has been expanded from just before the presidential election in May 2022 to October 2021.

The Kyunghyang Shinmun ran several reports in October 2021 about allegations that Yoon, during his tenure as a prosecutor, had flubbed an investigation into the Daejang neighborhood development scandal.

As the head of a team from the Central Investigation Department at the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office (SPO), Yoon led an investigation into Cho Woo-hyeong, who accepted a bribe of around 1 billion won (around US$740,000) in exchange for arranging project financing for the development in Daejang, but Yoon never booked Cho.

Four years later, Cho was indicted and sent to prison by prosecutors from the Suwon District Prosecutors’ Office, raising questions that Yoon’s investigation may not have been aboveboard. The primary evidence for that allegation was an interview with an individual surnamed Lee who had been the general contractor in the Daejang development project.

Around the same time. Newsverse also reported allegations that the SPO Central Investigation Department had buried allegations against Cho, citing Cho’s testimony in police records that he’d been investigated by the department in connection with the Daejang scandal in 2011 and Lee’s interview claim that he’d testified about the charges against Cho, also in 2011.

“We’re carrying out this investigation because of evidence that [the news outlets] misrepresented the information they’d learned, in full knowledge that their articles were not factual,” an official with the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said in a meeting with reporters on Thursday.

The Kyunghyang Shinmun released a statement criticizing the prosecutors’ behavior.

“There was no engagement in any behavior that would conflict with journalistic ethics during the process of reporting and printing articles in connection with this case. If it turns out that prosecutors’ reckless investigation of news organizations has been based on presuppositions, prosecutors will have to bear the full responsibility for that,” the newspaper said.

Newsverse said, “The grounds for the prosecutors’ investigation are flimsy or overblown. This is part and parcel of a media crackdown aimed at news outlets that are critical of the Yoon administration.”

By Jeon Gwang-joon, staff reporter

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