Big Bang’s Seungri, whose lavish taste and larger-than-life personality earned him the nickname “The Great Gatsby of Korea,” has been booked on charges of supplying prostitutes to business investors. Prostitution is illegal in South Korea. But the singer’s alleged involvement is just a high-visibility piece of a much murkier investigation into broader accusations of prostitution and sexual misconduct at popular nightclubs in Seoul’s affluent Gangnam district.
Lee Seung-hyun, who has gone by the stage name Seungri for the past decade that K-pop juggernaut Big Bang has dominated the scene, was accused of allegedly arranging for investors to receive sexual favours at Arena nightclub in Gangnam.
Following the allegations, the 28-year-old announced on his Instagram that he had decided to retire from the the K-pop industry and leave his management agency, YG Entertainment, despite his continued denial of the allegations. “It would be better for me to retire from the entertainment scene at this point,” he said. “As this scandal is too big, I have decided to retire. As for the ongoing investigation, I will take it seriously to clear myself of all the allegations. I give my heartfelt, sincere thanks to fans at home and abroad who gave their love for the past 10 years, and I think this should be it for the sake of the reputation of YG and Big Bang.”
Following Seungri’s announcement, a YG representative responded that the singer had quit without notifying the company, but the company has since honoured his request to terminate his contract. “YG Entertainment is aware that we need major improvements, and we promise to work with all of our executives and employees to put those improvements into place,” said YG in a statement. (Refinery29 has reached out to YG Entertainment for comment.)
It still isn’t clear whether Seungri will defer or move forward with his plans to enlist in the military on 25th March, a requirement for all able-bodied South Korean men aged 18-35. Though he would serve for a minimum of 21 months, police have said they can continue their investigation while he serves. If he’s found guilty, he could face a prison sentence of three years.
Much of this is thought to have begun after a video surfaced online of a man being assaulted by employees at Burning Sun, a nightclub where Seungri served as public relations director and sat on the board. According to local news, the man said that he was attempting to defend a woman who had been molested at the nightclub.
Since then, many women have come forward alleging they had been assaulted or drugged at Burning Sun, and local authorities have opened an investigation since late January, In fact, according to statistics revealed by Rep. Lee Jae-jung of the Democratic Party of Korea, 112 complaints — detailing assault, drugs, sexual harassment, abduction and detainment — had been filed with police against Burning Sun since it opened in February 2018. And in the last two months, the club (which closed on 17th February) faces allegations of bribery of the Gangnam police, securing prostitutes for VIPs, rape, drug trafficking and drug use, according to the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency. Seoul police have since widened the crackdown on drugs (especially GHB, or “date rape” drugs) to other clubs located in Gangnam.
According to police reports, Seungri was in a Kakaotalk group chat in 2015 with other male celebrities, including singer and popular television personality Jung Joon-Young, and the CEO Yoo of Yuri Holdings, which further corroborated Seungri’s alleged involvement with prostitutes. The group also was found to have been sharing hidden camera footage and photos of men engaging in intercourse with drugged or intoxicated women. This evidence (which the police have confirmed is legitimate) has obtained when a member of the chatroom sent his phone to a repair shop. The whistleblower from the shop then sent the texts to the Anti Corruption and Civil Rights Commission first instead of the police on 22nd February, as the messages seemed to indicate possible police corruption and collusion.
Jung is the only one of the other members in the "chat" to have responded to the allegations thus far, where he admitted to his wrongdoing. “I admit to all my crimes,” Jung said in a statement translated by Soompi from Korea's Herald. “I filmed women without their consent and shared it in a social media chatroom, and while I did so I didn’t feel a great sense of guilt.” This isn’t the first time Jung has been accused of this type of "spy cam" crime, and he has since been booked by the the Seoul police. South Korean laws punish sexual violence and creating hidden footage with up to five years in prison or 30 million won (£6,700) in fines. Distributing such footage for profit can result in seven years in prison or a £20,000 fine.
But while this scandal is certainly rocking the Korean music industry, many believe that this points to a much larger issue of corruption, spy cams, and a lack of prosecuted violence against women in Korea. “We demand self-reflection among male celebrities who are the perpetrators and abettors of rape culture; who saw women as sexual tools rather than human beings to be respected, actively participated in crime or condoned, assisted or enjoyed it,” Digital Sexual Crime Out, a feminist activist group, said in a statement translated by The New York Times. “We also demand self-reflection among men who related to these male celebrities and consumed the case as simple gossip.”