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K-Pop Crime Cartel Revealed as Korea’s Burning Sun Scandal Expands

The “Burning Sun Gate” scandal is fast becoming one of the most complex – and most sordid — episodes in Korean entertainment history.

So called because of the Burning Sun nightclub partially owned by the Bigbang K-pop star Seungri, the case has already focused on allegations of drug distribution, prostitution, and hidden camera footage. More revelations point to instances of police corruption and tax evasion.

Seungri (real name Lee Seung-hyun) claims that he had minimal involvement in the club’s management and no knowledge of drug and prostitution crimes that took place there. But evidence does not back up his assertions. The most telling evidence is leaked messages from a group on (Korean IM service) KakaoTalk, where Seungri has been a member since 2015. The messages were first forwarded to lawyers by a whistle blower, and then to the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission.

According to news reports, the messages show Seungri planning to bribe foreign investors with prostitutes, and to dispatch Korean women to Japan and Indonesia as escorts.

Moreover, the messages also suggest that group members had ties to police who could help them keep their business out of trouble. The country’s National Police Agency held a press conference on Mar. 13, where the Commissioner General announced an internal investigation into police corruption relating to Burning Sun.

A police superintendent admitted to knowing Yoo In-suk, Yuri Holdings’ head, and one of the chatroom members. The superintendent was later booked by the police. Another former office was charged with receiving bribes from Burning Sun.

Police corruption may also have helped Jung Joon-young, a singer and TV talent who is also a member of Seungri’s group chat, to evade 2016 charges of filming himself having sex without the knowledge of the women concerned. Messages from the same chatroom point to a police office instructing a forensics team to pretend that data could not be restored from Jung’s phone.

Although Jung had provided other celebrities, including boy band F.T. Island’s Choi Jong-hoon, boy band CNBLUE’s Lee Jong-hyun, and Highlight’s Yong Jun-hyung, with covertly filmed sex footage, prosecutors dropped the case in 2016 for lack of evidence. Ten women were reported to be victims.

Now, however, as the chat group data has surfaced, Jung has chosen to confess. “I admit to all my crimes. I filmed women without their consent and shared on social media,” Jung wrote in a public apology letter. He was immediately removed from several TV shows and announced his retirement from showbiz. On Mar. 21, Seoul Central District Court issued an arrest warrant for Jung. He could receive a sentence of up to seven years and six months.

Other celebrities involved in sharing the illegal footage have also released apologies. Choi, who shared illegal sex footage and tried to bribe a police officer with cash when caught for drunk driving in 2016, and Yong, who received multiple hidden cam video and made inappropriate comments about them, have both quit their bands.

South Korea’s President, Moon Jae-in weighed in last week. He called for investigation of three cases: Burning Sun Gate, the covert sex footage case; and former vice-minister of Justice’s sex scandal. He considered the illegal footage as part of the Burning Sun crisis.

He also referenced the death of actress Jang Ja-yeon, who took her own life in 2009. She left behind a suicide note naming 30 powerful people she had been forced to have sex with.

The Burning Sun scandal is not known to have a direct connection to Jang’s case. But since the #MeToo campaign has gained momentum in Korea, they are becoming linked in the public’s minds. More attention is being given to cases involving escort services and rape. A petition seeking to extend the investigation has received 685,000 signatures.

In interviews and questionings, Seungri has repeatedly denied involvement in Burning Sun’s illegal activities. He also claimed to have told Jung to cease his covert footage activity. But on Thursday (Mar. 28), it was revealed that he also participated in their circulation. Seoul police announced that, in addition to the pimping charges, Seungri has now been charged with illegal distribution of pornography.

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