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Economic Oracle ‘Minerva’ of False Info Charges

Posted April. 21, 2009 08:18,   


A netizen who used the name “Minerva” online to predict doom and gloom for the Korean economy was acquitted yesterday of spreading false information on the Internet.

The Seoul Central District Court ruled that the defendant “Park” was not guilty of spreading false information on the government’s economic policy. Justice Yoo Yeong-hyeon said Park did post false information on the Web but did not know it was wrong.

Yoo said it is hard to believe that Park planned to harm the public interest even if he was aware that his posts were wrong.

○ Unaware of inaccuracy

The ruling did say, however, that two of Park’s posts were wrong. The first one released July 30 last year said the government would stop foreign currency exchange operations due to a lack of foreign exchange reserves.

In the second released Dec. 29 last year, Park said the government sent emergency documents to financial institutions to prevent them from buying dollars.

The ruling said lack of foreign exchange reserves was not why the government stopped foreign currency exchange operations, adding the government never sent the documents, either.

The court judged that Park was unaware of his posts’ inaccuracy, saying he posted his erroneous articles on the Internet after reading a piece of online news. The news he referred to said foreign currency exchange operations would stop from Aug. 1 last year since reserves had declined the month before.

The court said he apparently misunderstood the concept of foreign currency exchange transactions.

Given that the Strategy and Finance Ministry asked financial institutions to refrain from buying dollars, Park’s false article written late last year was ruled to have not been done intentionally.

The court rejected the prosecution’s argument that Park wrote the articles with malicious intent. To determine if a person intends to harm the public interest, the ruling should consider generally accepted ideas after a thorough investigation into the defendant’s motives, measures and content.

Park, however, maintained that he wrote the articles to prevent individual investors from suffering financial losses due to the rapid weakening of the won versus the U.S. dollar.

The court rejected the prosecutor’s argument that Korea’s foreign exchange reserves declined when Park wrote the articles.

○ Freedom of expression

The acquittal was a surprise to lawyers, most of whom said the ruling was unexpected.

Park’s attorney Kim Gap-bae said, “The prosecution’s indictment was absurd. The court’s ruling supports freedom of expression. The charge of libel should be considered separately. But individuals or media cannot spread timely information if the government tries to label each case as right or wrong.”

Prosecutors, however, pledged to appeal the verdict, saying they cannot understand the ruling. “The court misunderstood the facts since it chose the wrong evidence. As a result, it wrongly applied legal principles when it concluded whether Park was aware that his articles contained erroneous information and if he intended to harm the public interest,” a prosecutor said.

After his release from police custody in Seoul, Park said, “I had a chance to think about how hard it was to stand for my rights.”