SKorean lawmaker loses seat after court says he wrongly published Samsung wiretaps

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SEOUL, South Korea - A South Korean lawmaker known for criticism of the Samsung conglomerate has forfeited his seat in parliament after the Supreme Court ruled he violated communications laws by publishing incriminating wiretaps of conversations between Samsung officials on the Internet.

South Korea's top court upheld a lower court's conviction of lawmaker Roh Hoe-chan and a suspended prison sentence. He published transcripts of conversations between an aide to Samsung Electronics Co. chairman Lee Kun-hee and Lee's brother-in-law that were recorded by the national intelligence agency. The conviction disqualifies Roh from being a lawmaker.

A press release issued by Roh in 2005 included a transcript of the conversations, which revealed the names of prosecutors who were showered with cash by Samsung. He also posted the transcript to his website.

Roh, who was a lawmaker for the opposition Progressive Justice Party, has been a vocal critic of Samsung, South Korea's most powerful conglomerate, which dominates the country's economy. In testimony to the National Assembly in 2005, he used the wiretapped conversations to call for an investigation into Samsung's relationships with prosecutors. The probe led to the resignation of a vice justice minister but prosecutors only indicated Roh and a journalist for releasing the wiretaps.

Usually South Korean lawmakers are protected by an immunity that allows them to speak freely in the National Assembly without being sued for libel or prosecuted for other charges. At issue was whether such immunity applied to the lawmaker's actions in cyberspace. South Korea's Supreme Court ruled that it did not.

"Unlike distributing press releases to journalists, uploading messages on the Internet allows an easy access to anybody at any time," the court said in a statement explaining its decision. The ruling also said the Internet delivers "unfiltered" information to the public, while the media "select what to publish with responsibility."

Roh criticized the court's ruling as "anachronistic," saying that any citizen can easily distribute or publish information online. He also said his more important role as a lawmaker was to fight against corruption at powerful groups in South Korea including prosecutors, who are the only South Korean officials who can charge suspected criminals and supervise police investigations.

Roh said he did not regret his decision to publish the information.

"If I go back to eight years ago, I would still do the same thing," he said in a statement after the ruling.

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Youkyung Lee can be reached at Twitter: www.twitter.com/YKLeeAP

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