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Wide-Ranging K-Pop Scandal Rocks South Korea

Seungri, center, member of a popular K-pop boy band Big Bang, arrives at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency in Seoul, South Korea, March 14, 2019.

South Korea’s entertainment industry was upended this week after a celebrity’s cell phone, which was in for repairs, revealed widespread alleged acts of sexual misconduct. YG Entertainment, which is tied closely to the stars at the center of the scandal, has seen its stock fluctuate this week as high-profile K-pop singers tied to it were implicated in the illegal activity.

It’s a blemish on South Korea’s leading cultural export that’s spawned the creation of a Seoul Metropolitan Police unit to look into the matter.

At the center of the scandal are ex-Big Bang member Seungri (real name Lee Seung-hyun), Jung Joon-young, and FT Island’s Choi Jong-hoon.

While Seungri hasn’t admitted to any specific acts of wrongdoing, Jung has.

On Wednesday, Jung admitted to filming women he had sex with and then sharing the videos online. He said this was done without the knowledge or consent of his partners.

"I admit to all of my sins. I filmed women without their consent, shared the videos in a SNS [social networking service] group chat and did such behavior without feeling any sense of guilt,” Jung said in a statement.

He added, “Most of all, I kneel down to apologize to the women who appear in the videos and all those who might be disappointed and upset at this shocking incident.”

Seungri apologized to his fans via his Instagram account, but has yet to elaborate on his role in the scandal.

"I've disappointed so many people and made so many people angry, I want to apologize once more and I will cooperate with the investigation,” he said.

FILE - Korean pop group Big Bang members, from left to right, Seungri, G-Dragon and Taeyang, as they perform in Singapore.
FILE - Korean pop group Big Bang members, from left to right, Seungri, G-Dragon and Taeyang, as they perform in Singapore.

Among K-pop entertainment labels, YG Entertainment, which signed Seungri, was hit hardest by the scandal. The firm’s stock price slid 14 percent on Monday, but has regained some ground since.

JYP Entertainment and S.M. Entertainment, also K-pop powerhouses, saw their shares dip earlier in the week as the scandal’s scope grew, before the market reversed that trend.

Choi’s agency, FNC Entertainment, announced the singer would stop performing with FT Island and place his career on hold.

Some 126 officers are now part of the criminal investigation that includes members from the narcotics unit, serious crime squad, a regional investigation unit, and a cyber investigation team.

Alleged criminal activity

For ex-Big Bang member Seungri, questions over his involvement in alleged illegal activity date back to January, when authorities began investigating claims that the Gangnam club Burning Sun had drugged female patrons, who later said they were raped in the club’s VIP room. Seungri also stands accused of providing prostitutes for wealthy investors.

At one point on South Korean television, Seungri claimed to be the owner of the Burning Sun, but as authorities began their investigation into the allegations the club provided gamma-hydroxybutyrate, a date rape drug to the female guests, it was revealed that the relationship had been severed.

However, Seungri has admitted he bribed policemen in Gangnam with about $18,000 to help facilitate the entrance of underaged guests into the nightclub.

K-pop singer Jung Joon-young, center, arrives at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency in Seoul, South Korea, March 14, 2019.
K-pop singer Jung Joon-young, center, arrives at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency in Seoul, South Korea, March 14, 2019.

In addition to admitting to using date rape drugs in the past, Jung Joon-young said he uploaded video footage he took to a private chatroom on multiple occasions. Jung said the women in the videos were filmed without their consent and even included some celebrities.

At least 10 victims have been identified by authorities at this time.

It’s not the first time Jung has been involved in a case involving nude images. In 2016, he was alleged to have recorded nude videos of his then-girlfriend. However, the case was dropped after a private digital forensics company contracted to retrieve the potentially illicit material said that nothing could be obtained from his mobile device.

Suspicions have now arisen that some members of the police asked the technology firm to guarantee no data could be recovered in Jung’s case. Local media reported Thursday that the unnamed forensics firm was raided Wednesday in connection to the current scandal.

Other group chat messages allege Choi Jong-hoon and others discussed payment being made to the police to cover up his drunk driving accident in 2016.

Police Commissioner Min Gap-ryong has launched an internal investigation into potential cover-ups and police wrongdoing.


South Korea remains fixated on the scandal and the plethora of allegations that continue to emerge, but Choi Ji-eun, a former journalist and commentator on South Korean pop culture, said it’s too early to predict the scandal’s impact on the perception of nation’s music industry.

“This is a criminal case of adult men, treating women as goods and sexual objects, but it is a bit early to predict the future of K-pop,” said Choi Ji-eun.

Choi calls the problem “deep-rooted” and asserts it will not be easy to change the culture. But if those charged were to be found guilty and severely punished when they illegally film and share the footage; use date rape drugs, and commit sexual harassment, “it will break down the strong structure [of a male-dominated society] and vicious circle.”

South Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, as well as the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, declined VOA’s request for comment.

Lee Ju-hyun contributed to this report.