Korean singer-songwriter Jung Joon-young (left), Seungri, a former member of the K-pop boy band Big Bang (center), and Choi Jong-Hoon (right), formerly of rock band FT island, have been questioned by police in relation to criminal investigations linked to leaked group chat messages.
Last year saw the beginning of South Korea’s #MeToo movement when Seo Ji-Hyun, a prosecutor from Seoul, spoke out after she was groped by a senior colleague. Since then, women across different industries have slowly started to talk about their personal experiences of abuse and harassment.
Now, a leak of explicit group chats involving several high profile men in entertainment has led to calls from the public to reinvestigate incidents of a similar nature where men were not prosecuted.
The person at the centre of the latest scandal is Seungri, a 28-year-old K-pop star who was the youngest member of the boy band Big Bang, one of South Korea’s biggest idol groups and one of the first K-pop acts to start touring worldwide.
However, for the first time, women in South Korea are seeing concrete results for their efforts to get their voices heard through social media, and there is the hope that perhaps, this time, the men involved — and others before them — will actually be held accountable for their actions.
At the end of February, a reporter from South Korean broadcaster SBS funE got a hold of explicit videos and messages from a group chat on South Korean messaging app KakaoTalk that involved several high profile men in the entertainment industry allegedly arranging prostitutes for foreign investors, recording explicit videos of women without their consent, and distributing the footage in the chat.
The messages had been anonymously emailed to a lawyer by a whistleblower after someone in the group chat sent their phone in for repair. It is not clear whether the whistleblower was the person repairing the phone, and the person who the phone belonged to has since requested anonymity, according to Korean news agency Yonhap.
The lawyer, Bang Jung-hyun, sent an archive of the messages, which he said spanned eight months, to SBS funE and reported the case to South Korea’s Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission after he found messages related to an ongoing investigation into a nightclub called Burning Sun.
[1/2] Lawyer Bang talks about #Seungri #BurningSun #JungJoonYoung Please read till the end #김현정의토크쇼 https://t.co/wRiFDzg9xf
On March 10, Seungri was booked on charges of violating anti-prostitution laws and called in for questioning by police over allegations of drug taking and arranging prostitutes for foreign investors at nightclubs he has ties to. Police said they had also booked three to four other people who at the time were unnamed.
The same day, police also searched a nightclub called Arena, where Seungri had apparently illegally offered prostitutes in December 2015 for an unnamed foreign investor, according to the messages. Prostitution is a crime in South Korea punishable with 3 years imprisonment.
South Korean news outlet Sisa Press also published messages that appeared to show a conversation between Seungri and his business partner prior to a trip to Indonesia, when Seungri allegedly offered different women to the business partner and asked how much he would pay the women. The screenshots appear to show Seungri mentioning the price of 10 million won ($10,000).
The next day, Seungri shocked his fans by announcing that he was retiring from music.
Seungri is seen arriving at a Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency on March 14, 2019 in Seoul, South Korea.
The 28-year-old and his label, YG Entertainment, have repeatedly denied the allegations and said that the messages were fabricated. Seungri’s business partner, Yoo In Suk, a co-CEO of investment company Yuri Holdings, has also denied accusations that he himself was also involved in the group chats.
Seungri had already been questioned in February as part of the investigation into Burning Sun nightclub, where he was the public relations director.
Police had begun investigating the nightclub after a man named Kim Sang-kyo said he was assaulted by the club’s staff when he was helping a woman who had been sexually harassed there.
Kim said that the assault left him with broken ribs, but he was himself also placed under arrest and further assaulted by police.
[only translating some part] In this chat, Seungri gives out the female ‘choices’ (from 1 to 5) to the client. E.g. #1 likes a little bit of money, charming, + good visuals, #3 has good visuals, fun, talented, but there’s a downside when she’s drunk.
The investigations into the messages from the group chat also revealed the existence of group chats where men were sharing sexually explicit videos of women who appear to be unaware that they were being filmed.
In South Korea, there has been a growing problem of tiny hidden cameras that are used to record people in changing rooms, bedrooms, bathrooms and in various private spaces. The explicit videos — known as “molka” — are often distributed across the internet on porn websites.
On March 11, Jung Joon-young, 30, a singer-songwriter, was named as a participant in the group chat. He has been accused of sharing ten videos of women over a ten-month period.
Jung Joon-young arrives at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency on March 14, 2019 in Seoul, South Korea.
His agency initially denied the allegations. Jung had been out of the country at the time but apologized at the airport upon returning to the country on March 12. He released a statement later that day admitting to the allegations.
A day later, South Korean media outlets named another member of the group chat as Choi Jong-hoon, 29, a member of South Korean rock band FT Island. Choi reportedly sent a message to the group chat talking about being caught drink-driving and allegedly asking a police officer to deal with it without the public knowing.
Choi’s label later said that, after checking with him, Choi did pay a 2.5 million won fine ($2,500) for drink driving and had his licence suspended for 100 days in February 2016. His label said that he would cooperate with the police in their investigation and while the investigation is taking place, he would halt all activities with the label.
Jung and Choi appeared to be involved in an exchange where Jung said, “Let’s all meet online and go to a strip bar and rape in a car.”
Someone only named as Park then responded, “We do that in real life too, you know.”
Choi agreed, and Park added, “This is a movie. Think about it for five minutes. We just didn’t murder, a lot of bastards have gone to jail for that.”
All eight members of the group chat have now been identified. They are: now former Big Bang member Seungri, Yoo, Jung, Choi and four non-celebrities. All the people in question have now retired from their respective businesses and have been questioned by police.
Choi Jong-hoon, arriving at a Seoul police station for questioning over a sex video scandal among multiple celebrities on March 16, 2019 in Seoul, South Korea.
On March 14, Yong Jun-hyung, a member of the K-pop group Highlight, also announced that he was retiring from the entertainment industry, even though he was not involved in the group chat. Yong said that he had started talking to Jung at the end of 2015 and admitted to taking part in “very inappropriate conversations”.
Former CNBLUE member Lee Jong-hyun has also retired after admitting that he also viewed explicit hidden camera footage, despite not being in the group chat.
Jjy: lets do a meetup online, go to a strip bar and then rape her/them in the car Huh: lololol Park: we already do that irl Choi (singer): true Park: dude this is like a movie. Think about it for just 5 minutes. We havent murdered anyone but we could get arrested for so much
Following the scandal, the South Korean public has been shining a spotlight on previous cases where men have been said to have abused their power, such as the death of Jang Ja-yeon, an actor who killed herself in 2009.
Jang had left a note where she accused her agent of forcing her to give sexual favors to 31 high-profile entertainment figures and journalists. Her agent was not identified but was arrested in July 2009 and charged for coercing her. He was given a one-year prison sentence.
Some of the 31 people Jang accused in her note were investigated by the police at the time but were acquitted, according to the Korea Times. The names of the 31 people were withheld by SBS TV out of privacy concerns.
As the statute of limitations on Jang’s case runs out at the end of March, people campaigned on social media to get Jang’s case retried by getting South Korea’s president to extend the time.
#JusticeforJangJayeon #JangJayeon I’ll make 1k tweets on my own if I have to. Please sign the petition: https://t.co/iSRvAr7uUp There are only 14 days left to sign it, so please get as many signatures as possible to emphasize the importance of Jang Jayeon’s case.
Scariest part about Jang Ja Yeon’s case is that 4 actresses from the same company had consecutive ‘suicides’ & all of them didn’t have a hand written will. 2 had none, 1 was through unidentified text & another through her mini homepage, both digitally which are easily manipulated
The other 3 women were in the same agency with Jang Ja Yeon and they were concluded to have taken their lives due to depression. I hope Koreans protest in Gwanghwamun square if this gets sweeped under the rug again. https://t.co/IX5jNrT7pE
The campaign received support from actor Yoon Ji-oh, who said she had seen some of the names on the letters in question. She posted to Instagram saying she believes the late actress was sexually assaulted and testified at a trial of a reporter who has been accused of sexually assaulting Jang on March 18.
Yoon Ji Oh posted this cap on her Instagram “The late Jang Jayeon’s scandal, she wasn’t offered for sexual services, she was sexually assaulted. I will restore her tarnished dignity.” #JangJayeon
Concerns about police corruption in Seungri’s case also led to growing support for a petition that was started on March 12 as a last minute campaign to ensure that Jang’s case was not forgotten about before the statute of limitations ends. It now has more than 670,000 signatures.
Many K-pop fans are mistaken. This is not an incident of one idol. This is the drug and prostitution scandal that took place in Korea, and the group that led it was politicians and conglomerates. And these are police corruption scandals that have not punished them for years.
On March 18, South Korean President Moon Jae-in responded by putting in an emergency order, which will allow prosecutors two more months to investigate Jang’s case.
The president also said there will be thorough investigation into another case involving former vice justice minister Kim Hak-ui.
문재인 대통령은 오늘 장자연·김학의·버닝썬 사건과 관련해 “공소시효가 끝난 일은 그대로 사실 여부를 가리고, 공소시효가 남은 범죄 행위가 있다면 반드시 엄정한 사법처리를 해 주기 바랍니다”라며 철저한 수사와 조사를 지시했습니다.
Kim was accused of raping women and receiving sexual services that were arranged for by a developer that was looking for business favours from the then senior prosecution official.
Kim went on to become the vice justice minister and later resigned when the sex for favours allegations surfaced. He was cleared in 2013, but there have been doubts by the Justice Ministry if the prosecution had properly investigated his case, according to the Korea Herald.
The president has assured the public and said that thorough investigations would not only be carried out in the old cases, but also in the one involving Seungri.
Despite the government’s announcements, people are still encouraging the public to continue signing the petition about Jang in order to get even more time and to keep the discussions going.
Unfortunate how this whole investigation has been framed as a “k-pop thing”. The story struck a chord b/c women in South Korea want an end to the hidden camera epidemic, sexual violence, and the culture of women abuse perpetuated by powerful, wealthy men in various industries.
#jjy #seungri #yg #정준영 #승리 #JungJoonYoun and this is something that has been happening but women have not been able to bring it to light and reveal these daily sexual assault issues
On Thursday, Jung was arrested after appearing in court and admitting to all the charges. He has been dropped by his management company.
Choi’s management company also said it was terminating its contract with him.
Seungri has continued to deny the allegations, with his lawyer going on TV and saying that the text messages were out of context and that the singer wasn’t arranging for a sexual escort but rather a woman to accompany the business partner.
Seungri was questioned for the fourth time by police on Thursday March 21 regarding a violation of the food sanitation act at one of his clubs.
Hey @netflix, I’m not sure if you’re aware about the huge #metoo scandal happening in #Korea with #Seungri, but you might wanna look into removing “YG Future Strategy Office” sometime soon because that piece of shit is at the helm of that show….
People have also been calling on Netflix to take down a show featuring Seungri on Netflix titled YG Future Strategy Office.
A Netflix spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that they have been informed of the allegations and “take the issue seriously.”
“We have no plans for doing active promotion of this show,” the spokesperson said.●