Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

MP loses seat over Samsung wiretaps

Roh Hoe-chan speaks during a press conference at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea (AP)
Roh Hoe-chan speaks during a press conference at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea (AP)

A South Korean MP known for his criticism of electronics giant Samsung has forfeited his seat in parliament after the country's supreme court said he broke the law by publishing incriminating wiretaps on the internet.

The court upheld a lower court's conviction of Roh Hoe-chan and his suspended prison sentence. Roh had published transcripts of conversations between an aide to Samsung Electronics chairman Lee Kun-hee and Mr Lee's brother-in-law that were recorded by the national intelligence agency. The conviction disqualifies Roh from being an MP.

A press release issued by Roh in 2005 included a transcript of the conversations, which revealed the names of prosecutors who were showered with cash by Samsung. He also posted the transcript to his website.

Roh, a member of the opposition Progressive Justice Party, has been a vocal critic of Samsung, South Korea's most powerful conglomerate, which dominates the country's economy.

In evidence to the National Assembly in 2005, he used the wiretapped conversations to call for an investigation into Samsung's relationships with prosecutors. The probe led to the resignation of a vice justice minister but prosecutors indicted only Roh and a journalist for releasing the wiretaps.

Usually South Korean MPs are protected by an immunity that allows them to speak freely in the National Assembly without being sued for libel or prosecuted for other charges. At issue was whether such immunity applied to Roh's actions in cyberspace. The supreme court ruled that it did not.

"Unlike distributing press releases to journalists, uploading messages on the internet allows an easy access to anybody at any time," the court said in a statement explaining its decision. The ruling also said the internet delivers "unfiltered" information to the public, while the media "select what to publish with responsibility".

Roh criticised the court's ruling as "anachronistic", saying any citizen could easily distribute or publish information online.

He said his more important role as an MP was to fight against corruption at powerful groups in South Korea including prosecutors, who are the only ones who can charge suspected criminals and supervise police investigations.

Roh said he did not regret his decision to publish the information. "If I go back to eight years ago, I would still do the same thing," he said after the ruling.

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