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Financial blogger's arrest tests Korea's progress on human rights

The government has charged Park Dae-sung with spreading false rumors that cost the country billions.

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The global economic crisis has resulted in the arrests of high-flying financial wizards on charges of stealing billions, caused economic suffering for millions, and sent thousands into bankruptcy.

Now, in this hard-driving society, touted for a "miracle" economy, the plunge has claimed its unlikeliest victim.

He's an Internet blogger whose offense was to forecast doom and gloom laced with acerbic criticism of the government of President Lee Myung-bak, a conservative with a background in big business.

The blogger, who spread his often accurate and negative estimates under the code name Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, sits in a tiny cell awaiting his first hearing this week on charges of spreading false rumors that prosecutors say hurt the economy to the tune of billions of dollars.

At stake, though, is not so much whether Minerva, a junior college graduate with no professional credentials, skewed the economy as whether Korea may reverse 22 years of advances in human rights.

"He says the government is not reliable, is not honest and is corrupted," says his lawyer, Park Chan-jong. "He wrote on the Internet the truth. The mainstream of his writing is true."

The blogger was able to forecast the demise of Lehman Brothers five days before its collapse, and his blog garnered 40 million hits before his arrest Jan. 7.

But prosecutors say Minerva – who never wrote under his real name, Park Dae-sung, but claims sole responsibility for his musings – exercised a "grave influence" on the foreign-exchange market by falsely claiming that the government was asking banks not to buy dollars. The result, they say, was market unrest responsible for the depletion of foreign-exchange reserves to the tune of $2 billion.

Mr. Park, or Minerva, is regarded as enough of a risk for a court to have denied him bail at his indictment last week on the grounds that he might try to destroy the evidence against him. He hopes to win freedom this week, however, before a judge who specializes in economic cases. The maximum term could be five years.

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