Court Clears Korean Financial Blogger of Charges

By John M. Glionna and Ju-min Park
(c) 2009, Los Angeles Times

SEOUL, South Korea -- An Internet blogger nicknamed Minerva was acquitted by a Seoul court Monday on charges that he spread malicious rumors about the South Korean economy that cost the government billions of dollars.

Park Dae-sung was released after the court ruled that he did not violate telecommunications laws with his popular blogs, which regularly pontificated on South Korea's ailing economy, castigated policymakers and forecast dire scenarios that many investors took to heart.

The case was seen as a legal test balloon for the year-old Lee Myung-bak administration, which has tried to curtail critics within the media. Many had expected that Park would do prison time.

Walking out of court on a rainy afternoon after three months in custody, Park told reporters that he was glad to be free. "I'm sorry for causing any trouble to society and wish this case to contribute to improving democracy as well as human rights," he said.

His lawyer, Park Chan-jong, applauded the court's decision.

"I was absolutely sure that he was innocent," the lawyer said. "However, I had questioned whether judgment of an acquittal could be made. I was a little bit shocked to see that the judiciary is still alive."

Prosecutors in Seoul said they would file an appeal.

Using the online alias Minerva, after the Roman goddess of wisdom, Park Dae-sung criticized the government for what he called blunders in responding to the ongoing global financial crisis.

In a Dec. 29 posting, he wrote that officials had ordered financial institutions to stop buying dollars as the country tried to curb the fall of its own won.

The posting devastated the local foreign exchange market, forcing the nation's financial authority to spend $2 billion to bolster the won as demand for dollars surged.

Prosecutors said the blogger destabilized the nation's currency market.

The court disagreed.

"Park wrote the articles without the knowledge that his posting contained false information," the ruling stated. "Even if he was aware of it, he didn't intend to harm the public interest."

Park Dae-sung's lawyer said his client was prepared to face more court proceedings if prosecutors appealed Monday's decision.

For now, Minerva's future remains unclear. Monday, Park Dae-sung was vague about whether he would resume his financial blog.

"I will continue to write articles on various topics," he told reporters.

Ju-min Park is an assistant in the Times' Seoul bureau.

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