Police are increasingly suspected of rampant collusion in an explosive sleaze scandal involving some of the biggest lights in K-pop.
Messages from an exclusive online group chat used by Seung-ri of boy band Big Bang and singer Jung Joon-young as well as staff at a couple of high-end nightclubs in Gangnam indicate that a high-ranking police officer was watching their backs.
Seung-ri stands accused of procuring prostitutes for wealthy investors as well as permitting drug peddling and sexual abuse at his now-defunct nightclub Burning Sun, which is unlikely to have gone on for long without the police deliberately turning a blind eye. He used another Gangnam nightclub, Arena, to set his potential investors up with prostitutes.
Messages Seung-ri and Jung shared in the chat show that Jung habitually secretly videotaped himself having sex with women, which is a jailable offence.
The chat messages came to light when Jung took his mobile phone for repairs and the technician leaked them to lawyer Bang Jung-hyun and a reporter at SBS. Bang in turn sent the messages to the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission and said in a radio interview, "There are areas that raise suspicions of collusive ties between the participants of the chat rooms and police."
Bang said no names were mentioned, but the comments suggest multiple police officers are involved. He added the comments strongly suggest that chat room members regularly turned to high-ranking officers for help when they fell foul of the law.
Police Commissioner Min Gap-ryong called an urgent press conference on Wednesday to address the suspicions. A police spokesman admitted, "The word 'police general' appears in a chat from in July of 2016." When one of the members in the chat group raises concerns over a building code violation at a friend's nightclub, another participant responds, "I read a message by [a night club employee] that the police general told him there's nothing to worry about."
There is, however, no such rank as "general" in the police. The spokesman speculated, "I think the person confused prosecutor general with police commissioner."
In March 2016, FT Island singer Choi Jong-hoon was caught drunk driving, and messages posted on the chat room suggest he solicited a favor from police to make sure the offense was kept from the media.
But Min insisted, "No criminal offenses have been verified, but I will check and see if there were any offenses at that time that the police could have been involved in."
Suspicions have also been raised that police asked a tech lab in 2016 that was trying to recover data from the handset of Jung, who was then involved in another scandal about posting nude videos of his then-girlfriend, to lay off and claim that the data was irretrievable. Police said the woman then submitted a letter retracting her allegations and prosecutors closed the case.
The same lab was raided by police on Wednesday, though presumably not by the same officers.
Both Seung-ri and Jung are being questioned on Thursday.
Jung Joon-young (left) and Seung-ri speak to reporters as they arrive at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency for questioning on Thursday.