Busan’s Buk-gu District Mayor, Oh Tae-won, faces significant political repercussions following the court’s sentencing over violations of the Public Official Election Act. After a fine of KRW 1.5 million was imposed on Mayor Oh on May 25th by the Criminal Trial Division 1 of the Western Branch of the Busan District Court, his position in office now hangs in the balance. As per the Public Official Election Act, an election stands nullified if the sentence, once confirmed, includes a fine exceeding KRW 1 million.
Mayor Oh, who emerged victorious in the local elections of June 1st last year, was implicated in a scandal where he was accused of sending approximately 180,000 promotional text messages in three rounds to the residents of Buk-gu. These messages, dating back to December 2021, included information about his book launch event, a public housing management agreement with Yangsan City worth KRW 10 billion, as well as photos and article links that highlighted his tenure as a representative of the construction company.
Further complicating Mayor Oh’s situation was the accusation of underreporting his assets during the local election. The prosecution alleged that Mayor Oh, despite possessing assets amounting to KRW 16.8 billion, omitted or undervalued about ten items, including four real estate properties, three unlisted stocks, and three golf memberships. Consequently, his assets were reported to be only KRW 4.710 billion during the last election.
In his defense during the trial, Mayor Oh claimed to be unaware of the bulk text messages sent out by his staff and denied any knowledge of the contents of these messages. He further asserted that the text messages were intended as sociable gestures rather than as campaign tools to influence the election. Regarding the underreporting of his assets, he stated that there was an error in reporting the face value instead of the appraisal value and some parts were missed while the staff were organizing the system. He emphatically denied any intention to influence the election or any malicious intent.
Despite his assertions, the court found it hard to accept Mayor Oh’s claims that the promotional messages were sent without his knowledge or intent, especially in light of the various pieces of evidence presented during the trial. The court deemed the text messaging activity as part of an election campaign designed to create a positive image and secure an advantageous position. In terms of the asset underreporting, the court took into account Mayor Oh’s failure to attend the briefing on asset declaration by the election commission, viewing it as tacit acceptance of potential inaccuracies in the reporting.
Expressing his intention to appeal the verdict, Mayor Oh now awaits the confirmation of the sentence, which will determine the future of his political career as per Article 18 of the Public Official Election Act.