Since the beginning of 2019, K-Pop idol Seungri, former member of influential South Korean boy band Big Bang, has been caught in a whirlwind of explosive and serious allegations involving prostitution, drugs and illicit sex videos. This has caused an uproar in the Korean entertainment industry which is well-known for having K-Pop idols uphold wholesome and clean images.
Let’s take a comprehensive look at how the events unfolded around one of the biggest scandals to hit the K-Pop world in recent years, with twists and turns worthy of a Korean drama.
Warning: Some images/videos may cause discomfort to viewers. Viewer discretion is advised.
How It All Started: Burning Sun Club Allegations
November 2018 to January 28, 2019
MBC’s newscast News Desk reported that a man named Mr Kim claimed that he was assaulted by a staff at Burning Sun, a nightclub reportedly co-owned by Seungri, in November 2018 as he was helping a woman who was being sexually harassed.
CCTV footage revealed Mr Kim being dragged out of the club by security guards where they and a director of Burning Sun, Mr Jang, proceeded to beat him up.
Mr Kim called the police to report the incident, but Mr Kim was arrested by the police instead as an assailant. After being arrested, it is also reported that Mr Kim alleged that the police officers had physically assaulted him as well. Mr Kim also alleged that police officers recorded his assault while ridiculing him, and that they did not allow him to seek medical attention for his injuries as he was arrested as the assailant.
The police report obtained by News Desk stated Mr Kim as the assailant and Mr Jang as the victim. It is also revealed that Seungri was present at the venue that evening.
A statement was issued by the CEOs of Burning Sun, Lee Sung Hyun and Lee Moon Ho to apologise for Mr Kim’s assault. They claimed to have fired the staff involved and promised to give their full cooperation to the investigation. Burning Sun also responded to a CCTV video of a separate incident that had been uploaded onto Youtube. It showed a woman being dragged down the hallway at the club.
She had allegedly reported the incident to the police, but no action had been taken and it was claimed that Burning Sun had deleted the footage. The club denied the accusations and provided more footage to support their claim that the woman in question was removed from a VIP table for being a nuisance and that she had assaulted their staff instead.
Mr Jang also spoke to news outlet E-Daily to apologize for the assault on Mr Kim and shared footage that showed Mr Kim approaching multiple female guests and there were complaints about his behaviour. He also stated that Seungri was not at the club on the day of the incident and in fact was someone the staff did not see often.
On the same day, Mr Kim took to Instagram to ask for any information that anyone might have regarding the date-rape drug, GHB. GHB’s known effects include a loss of consciousness, nausea, hallucinations, amnesia and coma.
He then shared a screenshot of a conversation he had with a female victim, who alleges that she was assaulted by a Burning Sun employee. She then explains that she could not make a police report because the club had already deleted CCTV footage of the incident.
New video footage emerged, showing Mr Kim harassing the woman that he claimed to have been saving. The woman accused him of sexually harassing her and the police summoned him for questioning. After spending 7 hours being interviewed in the police station, two other women stepped forward with new claims that Mr Kim had sexually harassed them as well.
Seungri addressed the assault issue via Instagram and stated that he was not present during the incident. He was shocked by the footage and does not condone the use of violence. He clarified that he as director at Burning Sun, he was only in-charge of promotions and was not involved in the club’s operations and management.
Meanwhile, news agency Dispatch claimed to have obtained chats that revealed group chat conversations between Burning Sun staff discussing tactics to bring girls into the VIP rooms, and that staff members were able to see VIP customers having sex in the rooms via CCTV.
It is reported that employees used terms like “home run” when referring to the drugging and raping of a victim. It is also reported that club directors believed VIPs would return if they had a successful “home run”.
Seungri was not part of these conversations.
Burning Sun CEO Lee Moon Ho issued a statement, apologising to Seungri for involving him in this controversy. He stated that as they were long-time friends, he had asked Seungri to be a consultant and he had only helped in contacting foreign DJs for the club and was not involved in the actual management. Burning Sun also promised to remove the VIP rooms and increase the number of CCTVs to improve the club environment.
The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency conducted raids on Burning Sun and the Yeoksam District police unit. Original hard disk CCTV footage, body cam footage, data related to alleged police collusion and drugs and sex crimes suspicions at Burning Sun were confiscated.
Seungri: Solicitation of Prostitution Allegations
News outlet SBS funE uncovered text messages that allegedly showed Seungri’s involvement in offering prostitutes to potential investors for his businesses in 2015. The conversation involved him, his business partner CEO Yoo of his investment company Yuri Holdings that he was then preparing to establish, and an employee. The messages implied that girls were hired to entertain a foreign investor at another prominent night club, Club Arena, and that Seungri had ordered his employee to “bring girls”.
Within a few hours of the report’s release, YG Entertainment issued a statement stating that upon checking with Seungri, they confirmed that the text messages were fabricated and untrue and they would follow up with legal action.
Yuri Holdings also made a statement that they believed someone with a grudge against Seungri had made up the text messages. The Seoul Police Department launched an investigation into these claims against Seungri.
The journalist from SBS funE confirmed that the text messages were not fabricated and were only edited to omit crude expressions. Seungri submitted himself to questioning by the police and took urine and follicle test to test for drugs and was released eight-and-a-half hours later. He appealed to the public to wait for the results of the investigations.
The first round of drug tests proved negative. Seungri cancelled all upcoming activities and stated that he would cooperate fully with investigations.
SBS funE reported that the whistleblower had submitted the text messages of Seungri to the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission instead of the police, because the messages suggested a deep connection to the police and complicity from the police.
A source from the Seoul Metropolitan Agency stated that they are aware that the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission was in possession of the text messages and the police had formally requested for their cooperation.
In early March, a CCTV video finally provided a key piece of evidence, when it was shown that a man had first grabbed Mr Kim’s hair and began the assault.
It is also reported that of the three women who claimed Mr Kim had sexually harassed them, all of them had connections to Burning Sun employees.
Seungri confirmed his military enlistment date as an active-duty soldier as March 25. News program MBC News released internal Burning Sun documents showing that Seungri had made an initial investment in the club and he was listed as one of the four executive directors. He was also listed as a corporate promoter which is used to refer to someone who worked on the formation of a company and Yuri Holdings, of which he was co-CEO of, was also a shareholder in the club.
Seungri was booked on charges of charges of violating South Korea’s Acts on Pimping and Prostitution and its Punishments and has marked him as a suspect. The police began searching Club Arena for information on the pimping allegations. The second round of Seungri’s drug tests proved negative. Police confirmed that multiple celebrities were also in the group chat that were used by Seungri to allegedly solicit prostitution and some of them had been summoned for questioning.
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Illicit Sex Videos Allegations
SBS funE once again accused Seungri of being involved in a group chat of eight people including two male singers and CEO Yoo, and a hidden camera video was shared in the chat room. Based on text messages sent in the group chat in January 2016, a video and photos were shared of a man having sex with a woman and Seungri had watched it and recognised the man in the video. It’s alleged that the woman was unaware that she was being filmed and there were other hidden camera videos and photos.
Newscast SBS 8 O’Clock News identified one of the celebrities in the group chat to be singer and variety star Jung Joon Young. It was reported that he had shared illegal video footage with his friends several times and they had so far confirmed with 10 victims that they had been filmed illegally. Joon Young’s agency MAKEUS Entertainment stated that the singer did not confirm nor deny the reports and they would wait for him to return to South Korea from the United States where he was filming a variety show, before issuing an official statement.
Seungri announced his retirement from the entertainment industry as he wanted to protect the honour of YG Entertainment and Big Bang as the issues caused by him were too serious. Police prohibited him from leaving the country.
Involvement of More Celebrities and Police Bribery Allegations
News outlet SBS 8 O’ Clock News also reported that in 2016, a second Mr Kim — an acquaintance of Seungri — had uploaded a video of himself having sexual relations with a woman who appeared to be unconscious. In response Choi Jong Hoon, a member of rock band F.T. Island, asked him for a video of a girl who’s “alive”. The second Mr Kim then admitted to filming the victim with the flashlight on because she had appeared to have fainted. Joon Young, who is a member of this group chat, was reported to have laughed and said “You raped her”.
Joon Young admitted to his crimes in a letter of apology and stated that he would withdraw from the entertainment industry. MAKEUS Entertainment terminated their contract with him. YG Entertainment also officially terminated Seungri’s contract. News program YTN report reports that Jong Hoon had shared information in the group chat with Seungri and Joon Young, implying he had made use of police connections to cover-up a drink-driving incident from February 2016.
SBS 8 O’ Clock News also reported on alleged text messages within the group chat discussing payments made to the police as cover up for Jong Hoon’s incident. The current Korea Police Commissioner General announced there would be an investigation into these allegations. Jong Hoon’s agency, FNC Entertainment, confirmed the drink-driving incident but stated he has no ties to the police. Meanwhile, Jong Hoon would suspend all activities while cooperating with the investigation.
K-Pop boy band HIGHLIGHT member Yong Junhyung admitted to having seen and commented on Joon Young’s illegal footage in a private chat between the two of them although he was never part of the group chats. He apologised and stated that he would withdraw from HIGHLIGHT to prevent further harm being done to his fans and members.
Seungri, Joon Young and CEO Yoo turned up at the Seoul Police Agency for questioning. The Commission General announced a plan to do an internal investigation of corruption in the police force as well as a nation-wide investigation of nightclubs with regards to drugs, sexual assault, the filming and distribution of hidden camera footage, and police connections. However, the current case involving Seungri has been transferred to the Seoul Central District Prosecutor’s Office. Jung Hoon also announced his retirement and withdrawal from F.T. Island.
Media outlet Sisa Journal reveals messages dating from 2014 that showed Seungri engaging in gambling activities and soliciting of prostitutes to his business partner then. It is illegal for Korean citizens to engage in gambling activities overseas.
SBS 8 O’ Clock news identified another celebrity involved in the group chat as rock band CNBLUE’s Lee Jong Hyun.
He is also an artist under FNC Entertainment. Jong Hyun has been accused of filming women secretly and sharing the footage. Chat transcripts in his personal chats with Joon Young also showed him asking the singer to introduce him to girls to allegedly sleep with.
MBN’s News 8 reported to have found out all the identities of the eight individuals who were part of the incriminating chat group. They reported the individuals to be: Seungri, Joon Young, Jong Hoon, Yoo In Suk (former CEO of Yuri Holdings and husband of actress Park Han Byul), Burning Sun employee and acquaintance of Seungri Mr Kim, a former YG Entertainment employee, Joon Young’s friend who once appeared with him on a previous episode of a variety show, and a relative of a girl group member.
Seungri and Joon Young told the press that they have turned in their mobile phones for investigations. Joon Young’s mobile phone was famously known as the “golden phone”, a nickname singer Zico gave because according to the singer, it contained a treasure trove of phone numbers.
A senior superintendent of the police force was called in for questioning on March 15 over suspicions about his involvement in covering up for various criminal activities made by Mr Yoo and other individuals, including Jong Hoon’s drink-driving incident. While he denied the allegations, on March 16, police said he admitted to having ties to Mr Yoo and have gone for golfing and dinner with him on previous occasions. Jong Hoon arrived at the police station for questioning.
MBN reported that Joon Young was investigated for a separate hidden camera incident last year, which was tipped off by an informant. The incident reportedly involved more than one perpetrator and they had promised to help the victims find careers in showbiz in exchange for sex.
Joon Hoon speaks to the press outside the police station after he was questioned by the police for 21 hours. He denied his involvement in the recent hidden camera scandal, but did not affirm nor deny if he had any relationship with the police officer involved, only telling the press that he had told the police everything.
While police were going through Joon Young’s “golden phone”, they found a chat log involving 2 Days 1 Night members, Cha Tae Hyun and Kim Joon Ho with Joon Young, which showed their involvement in illegal gambling. Tae Hyun and Joon Ho have issued formal apologies and will be leaving all the shows they are currently involved in.
Jung Joon Young’s home was also searched by police officers, and around the same time, KBS News released chat logs between Jung Joon Young and CEO Yoo discussing the procurement of prostitutes. The first log was reported to date as far back as December 25, 2015. In these chats, it was suggested that Joon Young was asking CEO Yoo to send some prostitutes over to his home.
Seungri grants interviews
Actress Park Han Byul (whose husband is the CEO of Yuri Holdings) is revealed to be acquainted to the senior superintendent from the police force who is suspected of covering up criminal activities. This was revealed by Jong Hoon during his questioning, as he revealed that he had played golf with the senior superintendent, the CEO of Yuri Holdings and his wife (Han Byul).
Seungri granted Sisa Journal an interview through his lawyer. During the interview, he had denied allegations of providing prostitution services to his clients and gambling overseas. He claimed to have just been shooting the breeze in the chat room. He also said he’s in a position where no one would believe anything he said because even the investigators believe the chat room contents were true. He also voiced his concern over whether he would be judged fairly due to his fame and status as a celebrity.
Seungri’s request to postpone his military enlistment has been approved. He had submitted an official request on March 18. He was initially due to enlist on March 25. His new enlistment date has yet to be confirmed, and will only be decided on June 25.
Seungri was booked and questioned about a club, Monkey Museum, which he opened with the CEO of Yuri Holdings. The club had been operating illegally because it was registered as a food establishment instead of an entertainment bar. One of the differences between the two is that for the latter, the customers can dance on a dance floor. The latter has to pay higher taxes compared to a restaurant.
Seungri’s lawyer also addressed the allegations that Seungri had provided prostitution services for foreign investors. In February, the chats allegedly showed that he asked his employee to find prostitutes, such as “girls who give well”, and one text from the employee confirmed that he had sent “two men” up to a hotel room. His lawyer clarified that Seungri, who was in Nagoya at the time, was asking his employee to plan a party for Singaporean socialite, Kim Lim, who is his good friend. He clarified that the girls were not prostitutes, and the “two men” were Kim’s friends who went along on the trip and he was simply sending them to the hotel where they were staying.
Jong Hoon has been booked for attempting to bribe a police officer to cover-up his drink-driving incident in 2016. The police officer involved testified that the former F.T. Island leader had offered him 2 million won ($2,380) to cover up the incident, but was rejected. Police is now investigating what transpired after that.
Joon Young has been arrested and said he admits to all charges.
According to KBS News, Seungri admitted to having knowledge of the illegal operations. SBS News reported that Seungri also admitted to knowing the senior superintendent but insisted no bribery was involved.
In an interview published by Chosun Ilbo, Seungri said he initially claimed the text messages between him and Joon Young were fabricated because there was no time stamp or context, so he couldn’t remember it because it took place in 2015. He also said he had advised Joon Young and the others against their illegal activities (recording illegal sex tapes and sharing them) through phone calls and in-person but not through text messages, so it wasn’t reflected in the chatroom.
He also said that although he mentioned in a previous show that he’s very hands-on when it comes to all his businesses, he was simply the face of Burning Sun and was not aware of its day-to-day operations or who they employed although he invested 10 million won ($11,900) in the business through Yuri Holdings. Seungri claims that he only receives belated information through his acquaintances, and states that he had even confronted Burning Sun’s CEO Lee Moon Ho over Lee’s alleged drug use.
He went on to address Kim Lim’s involvement. He said, “Kimmy is a Singaporean and is the daughter of a famous football player. I’ve received a lot of help from her, so I wanted to look out for her.”
He addressed allegations of him sending a prostitute to Indonesia for a client. “He wanted me to introduce someone who could go with him to visit the king of Indonesia. He wanted to give the person 10 million won as allowance. I simply repeated the amount to confirm. At that time, I had invested 2 billion won with him, and I needed to get on his good side because I hadn’t gotten it back. But I didn’t get the money back so I had sued him.”
Shortly after news about Kim’s involvement broke out, she posted her statement on Instagram stories, denying her involvement in the scandal. She clarified that Seungri had called her before the news broke and asked her a few weird questions that left her confused.
She went on to clarify that although she was at Club Arena for a night out on December 9, 2015, and Seungri had arranged for a VIP table for her group, she and her friends partied by themselves and left after. She did not ask for any “girls” to party with her and there were no patrons or staff who accompanied their group. She said she was embroiled in the matter because she was at the wrong place and the wrong time. She also emphasised that she was not aware of the criminal activities involving Burning Sun or Seungri before this scandal broke out.
Investigations are ongoing.
Text: Valerie Toh & Hidayah Idris/CLEO / Additional reporting by: Aaron Kok / Images: TPG News, Instagram, SBS funE.