Korean prosecutors raid home of news outlet CEO over alleged libel of president

Posted on : 2023-12-07 17:16 KST Modified on : 2023-12-07 17:17 KST
The private home of Newstapa CEO Kim Yong-jin was raided in connection with the publication of an interview that touched on alleged malfeasance by Yoon as a prosecutor prior to his election as president
CEO Kim Yong-jin and other Newstapa staff deliver a statement on prosecutors’ raid on their office on Sept. 14. (Yonhap)
CEO Kim Yong-jin and other Newstapa staff deliver a statement on prosecutors’ raid on their office on Sept. 14. (Yonhap)

Prosecutors conducted a search and seizure on the home of Newstapa cofounder and CEO Kim Yong-jin as part of their investigation into reporting scrutinizing then-candidate Yoon Suk-yeol during last year’s presidential election.

This second forcible investigation came three months after another raid on the Newstapa offices in September. Prosecutors suspect Kim of deep involvement in reporting on transcripts concerning alleged efforts to quiet an investigation into Busan Savings Bank — but their actions in raiding a media company CEO’s home over a reporting issue are almost unprecedented.

A Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office special investigation team probing “media manipulation during the election campaign” under chief prosecutor Kang Baek-sin conducted a search and seizure on Kim’s hope in Seoul’s Seodaemun District on Wednesday in connection with suspicions of defamation according to the Information and Communications Network Act.

The prosecutors are currently investigating the circumstances behind a report featuring transcripts of a conversation on March 6, 2022 — three days before the presidential election — between then-Newstapa expert committee member Shin Hak-lim and Kim Man-bae, a majority shareholder in the asset management company Hwacheon Daeyu, in which it was alleged that Yoon conducted a shoddy investigation of Busan Savings Bank.

The prosecutors believe Kim played a key role in the report being published, including receiving a report on the content and discussing it 10 days before it was made public.

Their list of investigation targets has grown as Shin, Kim Man-bae, Newstapa reporter Han Sang-jin, and now Kim Yong-jin have all been booked as suspects.

The Newstapa report in question stated that the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office central investigation division backed off an investigation of development improprieties in Seongnam’s Daejang neighborhood while investigating a case related to Busan Savings Banks in 2011. The senior prosecutor on the case at the time was Yoon Suk-yeol.

But after it emerged that Shin received 165 million won (US$123,500) in book sale commission from Kim at the actual time of the conversation in the reported transcripts around September 2021, prosecutors began investigating Shin on charges of bribe by breach of trust for allegedly receiving money in connection with the report, as well as defamation according to the Information and Communications Network Act.

The controversy has grown as the prosecutors have widened their investigation net from the reporter responsible for writing the article in question to the CEO of the news outlet itself.

In a telephone interview with the Hankyoreh, Kim Yong-jin said, “I received a report on March 4, which was two days before publication.”

“Obviously, the CEO is going to have final approval when it comes to major reports. The prosecutors are treating that as ‘conspiracy’ [to commit a crime],” he added.

Ten months after the report, Shin was asked by one news outlet this January whether he engaged in a “fraudulent interview” after receiving 10 billion won from Kim Man-bae. Afterwards, he reportedly told Kim Yong-jin about this and resigned as a member of the Newstapa expert committee.

The prosecutors are also raising issues of Kim’s failure to correct or delete the previous article after learning about the allegations of a financial transaction between Shin and Kim Man-bae.

The group People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy said, “The prosecutors’ raid on a media company CEO’s residence over charges of defamation, which are not included in the scope of their direct investigation authority according to the Prosecutors’ Office Act — and over charges of defamation of a president who is a former prosecutor general at that — is the sort of action that we might witness during the dictatorship.”

In a position statement on Wednesday, Newstapa said, “The prosecutors’ allegations of bribery by breach of trust against former Newstapa expert committee member Shin Hak-lim and their allegations of defamation of President Yoon Suk-yeol are merely fiction without any basis in fact.”

“The Newstapa report on March 6 of last year was a very normal example of reporting scrutinizing a candidate for public office,” it added.

In an MBC radio appearance on Sept. 8 of this year, Han Sang-jin, the journalist who reported on Shin and Kim Man-bae’s conversation, said he was unaware of the financial transaction at the time of the report.

“I received the recording on March 4 [of 2022], and Shin Hak-lim had already received the funds in question around six months earlier,” he explained.

“Even if it was argued that this was a normal transaction, would I have published that report [if I had known about the transaction]?” he asked.

By Jeong Hye-min, staff reporter; Jeon Gwang-joon, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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