The National Assembly on Monday passed a bill seeking to introduce an independent counsel to investigate an online opinion rigging scandal and approved a supplementary budget.
At a plenary session, 183 of 288 lawmakers present voted for the special counsel bill.
It will be the 13th ever special counsel probe and the first under the Moon Jae-in government.
The Korean Bar Association will recommend four candidates for the independent counsel to investigate the “druking” online opinion rigging scandal. The opposition bloc will short-list two finalists and President Moon will appoint one of them.
The scandal centers on an influential blogger known as "druking", who is a former member of the ruling Democratic Party. The blogger surnamed Kim is suspecting of manipulating online comments in an aim to sway public opinion on key political issues.
The special counsel probe team will consist of three assistants to the independent counsel, 13 prosecutors, 35 investigators and 35 civil servants. The team, which is expected to start operating from the end of June, will have 60 days to investigate with a possible extension of 30 more days.
The probe needs to uncover mainly two facts. The first is whether “druking” and his associates engaged in opinion rigging activities before the May 2017 presidential election to tilt the race in favor of then-candidate Moon Jae-in.
So far it's been confirmed that he manipulated the number of likes of online comments in January last year. Circumstantial evidence also shows the blogger and his team posted comments on some 90-thousand online news articles between October 2016 and March this year.
The second point of investigation is whether politicians are behind the scandal, in particular former DP lawmaker Kim Kyoung-soo, who has close ties to President Moon.
Kim defiantly denies charges against him but some of his contacts with “druking” have come to light. A presidential secretary is also known to have met with the blogger before the presidential election.
On Monday, the parliament also passed a 3.8 trillion won supplementary budget bill aimed at creating new jobs for young people and boosting regional economies. The approved budget is 20 billion won less than what the government asked for.
The budget will seek to support six regions where employment and economic conditions are considered at a crisis level.
The government first proposed the supplementary budget in early April but the opposition objected the move, saying that requirements for an extra budget are not satisfied.
The opposition thinks the budget move is a pork barrel measure ahead of the June elections.
A compromise was finally reached between rival camps as the ruling party accepted the special counsel probe into the “druking” case while the opposition bloc agreed to approve the budget.
Following the bill’s passage, the government immediately set out to execute the budget.
Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon convened a Cabinet meeting Monday evening and gave the green light to the budget’s allocation.
The government plans to execute over 70 percent of the budget within two months and also encourage provincial authorities to draft their own supplementary budgets
Close to 2.7 trillion won is expected to be released into the economy by the end of July.