Prosecutors bust upscale prostitution syndicate, find no top celebrities involved
By Park Si-soo
A group of big-name female celebrities, including actress Lee Da-hae, Kim Sa-rang and K-pop musician Yoon Eun-hye, have been cleared of sex-for-money rumors that began to spread on the Internet and mobile messengers from early this month.
In a hurriedly arranged press briefing on Thursday evening, the prosecution said it has busted a large upscale prostitution ring involving several obscure TV personalities, but found no links between the celebrities and the illicit syndicate.
The prosecution rarely holds evening briefings, hinting it was a determined attempt aimed at halting the spread of the baseless allegations against the celebrities in question.
Following the announcement, the affected celebrities jointly declared war on rumor-mongers, pledging to show no mercy on those responsible. They have already filed different complaints with the police and the prosecution as part of efforts to get to the bottom of the case.
"Regardless of the (investigation) results, we will take legal action to catch rumor-mongers and hold them liable for this," actress Lee's legal team said in a statement.
"She has been taking a tolerant attitude toward the rumors. But the recent situation has really gotten out of control. We feel that we can't simply just let it go this time, and to prevent such a situation from happening in future, we have decided to take action through legal channels so that it can serve as an effective example."
The team said it had already submitted evidence to the Seoul Central District Court on Dec. 13, and also filed lawsuits against Internet users believed to be responsible.
K-pop singer Shinji filed a similar complaint, saying the rumor damaged not only her reputation as a TV personality but also as a woman. Actress Hwang Soo-jung followed in the footstep, saying she had suffered both financial and emotional damage due to the rumors.
The prosecution started looking into the case in May after securing related intelligence while dealing with a drug-related case, according to Ahn Byung-ik, a senior prosecutor at the Ansan branch of the Suwon District Prosecutors' Office in charge of the case.
"We've indicted 12 people, including nine women, in connection with the prostitution ring. Among them is a woman who is relatively well known to the public," Ahn said during the briefing.
He refused to elaborate for privacy concerns, but made it clear that there was no A-list celebrity involved.
"Prior to the briefing, we've never made any confirmation regarding the case to the media," he noted. "I think some half-baked information regarding the case had been leaked to the media for some unspecified reason and sparked rumors that some top celebrities were involved in the syndicate."
Ahn said some of the ring's members were confirmed to have travelled to China with their "clients." The prosecutor also disclosed the ring's price policy under which a prostitute receives from 3 million won ($2,800) up to 50 million won ($47,500) a month in exchange for providing a client with sexual services three or four times.
The unsavory rumor involving top actresses and singers went viral after the Munhwa Ilbo, a vernacular daily, reported on Dec. 12 that the prosecution had been looking into allegations that more than 30 top female entertainers had sexually entertained rich businessmen.
Since then a list of female celebrities, including actress Lee Da-hae, Kim Sa-rang, Kwon Min-jung, Hwang Soo-jung, K-pop singer Yoon Eun-hye, Shinji and comedian Jo hye-ryeon, was circulated through mobile messengers such as Kakao Talk and Line, seriously maligning the reputation of the named persons.
It was updated early this week to include some actors, a prominent songwriter and tycoons and powerful figures in the entertainment industry who are alleged to have been loyal clients of the ring. These messages also contain a detailed pricing policy under which a female celebrity receives from 7 million won ($6,600) up to 50 million won ($47,500) a month in exchange for providing a client with sexual services three or four times.
The credibility of the rumor was very questionable since nothing is certain when it comes to the source and original distributor. Nevertheless, many people continued to believe the rumors, holding onto the old saying, "No smoke without fire."
On Monday, the prosecution said it will complete its investigation by the end of the month in order to prevent the "further spread" of the rumor. Without confirming the circulated list, a spokesman for the Ansan branch of the Suwon District Prosecutors' Office said, "We have never made any confirmation (to the media) regarding the list." He said investigators are widening the probe as key suspects strongly deny their connection to the ring.
"We are trying to secure solid evidence like records of financial transaction or written messages," the spokesman said, adding investigators have interviewed residents on Daebu Island because a luxury villa on the island is rumored to be the main venue for the alleged sex-for-money deals.
According to news reports, the pension in question is situated in a resort town that has nearly 40 upscale villas decorated with high-priced marble and wood. It reportedly costs around 700,000 won a day to stay there.
This is not the first case of paid sex between female celebrities and influential figures in Korea.
In 2009, an aspiring actress Jang Ja-yeon killed herself at the age of 30, leaving behind a suicide note in which she claimed she was coerced into having drinks with media and business moguls.
The note also claimed she was forced to have sex with them. The note galvanized the prosecution to launch what it called a "no-holds-barred" investigation into the case, but it failed to dig up critical evidence against the suspects.
Under the Act on the Punishment of Acts of Arranging Sexual Traffic, prostitution is punishable by a prison term of up to one year or a fine of 3 million won, and those organizing prostitution could face up to three years imprisonment or a 30 million won fine.