SKorean blogger who predicted Lehman Brothers collapse arrestedSubmitted by Sovereign Maersk on Sat, 01/10/2009 - 14:06
SEOUL, South Korea – A South Korean blogger pleaded not guilty Saturday to charges that he spread false economic information on the Internet, a news report said, in a case that drew heated debate over freedom of speech.
The blogger, identified only by his surname Park, gained prominence among South Koreans because some of his dire predictions about the global economy, including the collapse of Lehman Brothers, later proved to be correct.
Known widely by his pen name "Minerva," the mythological Greek goddess of wisdom, the 31-year-old Park was accused of spreading false information on an Internet discussion site last month that the government had ordered major financial institutions and trade businesses not to purchase U.S. dollars.
Kim Yong-sang, a judge at the Seoul Central District Court who issued an arrest warrant for Park following Saturday's court hearing, said the case "affected foreign exchange markets and the nation's credibility," Yonhap news agency reported.
Park told the judge he wrote articles to help underprivileged people and did not seek any personal financial gain or harm the public interest, Yonhap said.
In about 100 postings on the popular Web site last year, Park criticized the government's handling of the economy and made predictions, largely negative, on the future. His writings were sprinkled with jargon that convinced some readers he was an economic expert.
Park described himself in Web entries as a former securities firm employee with a master's degree earned in the United States and experience in the field of corporate acquisitions and takeovers, according to local media.
His deeply analytical style and sometimes prescient forecasts made Park a star on the Web, earning him the nickname "economic president on the Internet."
But prosecutors said Park was an unemployed resident of Seoul who studied economics on his own after graduating from a vocational high school and a junior college with a major in information and communication.
Repeated calls to the court seeking confirmation went unanswered Saturday evening.
It is rare for bloggers to be arrested in South Korea, one of the world's most wired and tech savvy nations. Critics say the case could undermine freedom of speech on the Internet.
"It is as if control on the Internet started as of today," a blogger wrote on a bulletin board in Daum Communications, one of South Korea's popular Web portals after news came of Park's detention on Wednesday.
Lawyers for a Democratic Society, a prominent human rights group, has called for Park's release and urged the prosecution to stop its investigation.
It is extremely intolerant for the government "to punish those who freely express their opinions and discuss them on the Internet," the group said Friday.
In a statement, the main opposition Democratic Party expressed disappointment over the arrest and accused the judiciary of paving the way for human rights violations.
If indicted and convicted, Park could be sentenced to up to five years in prison or receive a fine of up to 50 million won ($37,250). Park was transferred to a Seoul detention center after the court issued the warrant, Yonhap said.