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S. Korean blogger faces trial

PROSECUTORS charged a popular South Korean blogger yesterday with spreading false information that they alleged damaged the country's foreign exchange market.

The 30-year-old, known by his pen name "Minerva," after the Greek goddess of wisdom, said in comments posted on the Internet in December that the government had banned major financial institutions and trade businesses from buying United States' dollars.

In a statement yesterday, prosecutors said that the posting was not only inaccurate but that it had "a clear and grave influence" on the foreign exchange market and undermined the nation's credibility.

Defense lawyer Park Chan-jong told The Associated Press that the blogger ?? identified in court documents as Park Dae-sung ?? was innocent. He did not elaborate.

The blogger's arrest ignited a debate about freedom of speech in South Korea, which has one of the highest Internet penetration levels in the world.

He rocketed to fame after some of his predictions, including the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the investment bank, proved to be correct.

In some 280 postings on bulletin boards on a popular Internet portal last year, he denounced the government's handling of the economy and made largely negative predictions for the future.

His writings were sprinkled with jargon that suggested he was an expert on economics and his identity has been a major topic of discussion throughout South Korea and the Web. Prosecutors said he is actually an unemployed Seoul resident who studied economics on his own after graduating from a vocational high school and junior college with a major in information and communication.

The blogger has been in custody since his arrest earlier this month. No trial date has been set.

If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison or a fine of up to 50 million won (US$36,300).


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