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Report: Park Geun-hye's office intervened in trial of Japanese journalist

By Elizabeth Shim
Report: Park Geun-hye's office intervened in trial of Japanese journalist
Japanese journalist Tatsuya Kato (L) of the Sankei Shimbun stood trial in South Korea in 2015. File Photo by Yonhap

Oct. 22 (UPI) -- New evidence shows former South Korean President Park Geun-hye's office made contact with a former judge presiding over a defamation lawsuit in 2015 involving a Japanese journalist who questioned the president's whereabouts during the sinking of a South Korean ferry, according to a local press report.

South Korean prosecutors said Monday new "clues" have been secured, showing an "exchange of opinions" between Lim Jong-hun, the former deputy head of South Korea's National Court Administration, and the presidential Blue House, CBS No Cut News reported.

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The two sides discussed the case of Tatsuya Kato, who was the Seoul bureau chief of the Sankei Shimbun, a right-wing Japanese newspaper.

Kato, who was eventually acquitted of defamation charges in December 2015, was under prosecution without detention for a year and two months.

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On April 16, 2014, on the day of the Sewol ferry sinking, Park was unreachable for seven hours. In his column, Kato had suggested Park was with a male companion, Chung Yoon-hoi, a business executive, a claim that triggered the Blue House lawsuit.

Kato was indicted for libel under South Korea's Communication Network Act for raising issues that delved into Park's private life.

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Park's secretary for legal affairs in the Blue House sent Lim a text message in November 2015, attaching a document detailing a judicial precedent for defamation that could be applied to Kato's case.

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During his trial, the Japanese journalist was forced to stand for three hours before he received his verdict. The South Korean court said press freedoms were taken into consideration in arriving at Kato's acquittal.

The case made headlines in 2015 and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at the time he "appreciated" the verdict.

The two countries continue to squabble over history and territory.

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On Monday the Japanese foreign ministry condemned a South Korean visit to the disputed Dokdo or Takeshima Islets, Kyodo News reported.

South Korean lawmakers visited the area on Monday, where they denounced Japanese textbook claims to the islets, according to Yonhap.

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