Civilian court to try cyber unit smear campaign case

SEOUL, Jan. 9 (Yonhap) -- A civilian court in Seoul has taken over the high-profile election-meddling case involving the country's military cyber warfare command, court officials said Thursday.

A middle-ranking official of the military unit indicted on charges of launching an online smear campaign to influence last year's presidential election was forwarded to the Seoul Eastern District Court from the High Military Court on Wednesday, according to the officials.

The move came as the director of the cyber command's psychological warfare team, identified only by his surname Lee, retired last month due to the age limit, they added.

Lee, along with 10 other lower-level military officers, was suspected of posting thousands of writings against then opposition presidential candidate Moon Jae-in and his party on social networking sites, according to the military investigation team that launched a probe into the case and announced its results last month.

Lee, in particular, allegedly ordered his subordinates to post politically biased writings and to destroy evidence, which constitutes a violation of the obligation of a public official to maintain political neutrality.

"Different from cases dealt by a military court, those in civilian courts are supposed to be made public. So this election-meddling case is expected to draw huge public attention and have greater ripple effects," said a court official.

The defense ministry earlier drew criticism after the military prosecutors concluded that none of the former and present chiefs of the cyber command nor the defense minister were involved in the scandal.

The case is part of an extensive election-meddling scandal that has been a source of prolonged political wrangling for months. The National Intelligence Service and other public offices have also allegedly been involved in the scandal, prompting rival parties to jointly push for reforming the spy agency.

The cyber command was created in 2010 to counter North Korean hacking attempts in light of growing security threats in cyberspace.

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