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SKorean Convicted in Smear Campaign

September 23, 1998

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ South Korea’s former top spy was sentenced to five years in prison today for plotting to destroy President Kim Dae-jung’s election campaign last year by depicting him as a communist.

A three-judge court also handed down prison terms of up to two years to six former intelligence agents and a magazine publisher for participating in the scheme.

Kwon Young-hae, 60, a former head of the Agency for National Security Planning, was found guilty of violating election laws and a law calling for his agency’s political neutrality.

Prosecutors had requested a 12-year sentence for Kwon.

Kwon admitted in court that he paid a Korean-American businessman to hold news conferences in Beijing, Tokyo and Seoul just before the Dec. 18 presidential election, alleging that Kim’s campaign was funded by North Korea.

Kwon, a retired army general, headed the spy agency for three years until he was sacked by the newly elected president in early March.

Details of Kwon’s smear campaign were not widely reported in local media and Kim Dae-jung, an opposition candidate, eventually won the election by a narrow margin.

All but one of the six former agents were given suspended sentences of up to two years. The sixth was given a 16-month sentence for physically detaining for more than a week a colleague who sought to make the agency’s illegal activity public.

Sohn Choong-moo, 59, a publisher, was sentenced to two years in prison for spreading unfounded, hostile rumors about Kim through his magazine. He was found to have received bribes from the ex-spy chief.

In a separate trial earlier, four people, including the Korean- American businessman, Yoon Hong-joon, 34, were convicted of similar charges and sentenced to up to two years in prison.

South Korea remains staunchly anti-communist after fighting a war with North Korea in 1950-53.

Under South Korea’s past authoritarian governments, the spy agency often portrayed dissidents or political opponents as communists to destroy their careers.

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