A South Korean politician who sought to expose corruption within Samsung's ranks has lost his seat in parliament. The Supreme Court upheld that by publishing transcripts of wiretapped conversations online, Roh Hoe-chan broke communications laws; the conviction means he cannot remain a lawmaker, and he has received a suspended prison sentence. In explaining its decision, the court said "Unlike distributing press releases to journalists, uploading messages on the Internet allows an easy access to anybody at any time." It added that the media publishes select information "with responsibility" rather than providing the public with "unfiltered access" to what it knows.
X-File investigations focused on illegal wiretaps' publishers, not participants
The conversations in question are part of what is known as the Samsung X-File, a trove of tapes illegally recorded by the government's intelligence service during the 1990s. The files include conversations between Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee and his brother in law, and reveal bribes allegedly paid by the conglomerate to prosecutors, politicians, and presidential candidates.
But investigations into the X-File centered around the illegal nature of their recording and release — only Roh and MBC journalist Lee Sang-ho were indicted for their role in publishing the wiretaps, and none of the resulting evidence was admissible in prosecution. Lee was handed a suspended prison sentence in 2011 on the grounds that his reporting of private conversations was not in the public interest. However, Joongang Daily newspaper publisher Hong Seok-hyun was forced to resign as US ambassador over his implication in lobbying presidential candidates with Samsung bribes, as was Vice Justice Minister Kim Sang-hee.
"If I go back to eight years ago, I would still do the same thing."
Roh — leader of the Progressive Justice Party until today — first brought up the X-File back in 2005, citing the need to expose Samsung's relationships with powerful prosecutors. Roh described today's court ruling as "anachronistic," reports the AP, given the ease with which any South Korean citizen can publish material online. "If I go back to eight years ago, I would still do the same thing."