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Posted : 2014-04-14 17:10
Updated : 2014-04-14 21:51

Are they really sick?

Drafted in 2012, K-pop star Sangchu, left, and actor Kim Moo-yeol are suspected of having exaggerated their sickness to extend their ospitalization. Sangchu, who is said to have had two injuries in his right shoulder and right ankle late last year, has been lying on a hospital bed for six months, while Kim has been taking a medical leave of absence for nearly two months after suffering an injury in his left knee. / Korea Times files


Stars suspected of malingering to shun tough military life

By Park Si-soo

Are they really sick? Or is it another outrageous case of preferential treatment?


People are casting a suspicious eye on K-pop singer Sangchu and actor Kim Moo-yeol, who began their compulsory military service in 2012. They are currently having extraordinarily long medical leaves.

Sangchu ㅡ real name Lee Sang-chul ㅡ has been lying in a hospital bed for the last six months at a military hospital in Chuncheon, Gangwon Province. Kim has been receiving rehabilitation treatment for nearly two months at another military hospital near Seoul.

Under the defense ministry's rules on service members, an injured soldier can take medical leave of up to one month with the period extendable depending on the patient's condition.

A lingering question is how badly they are injured. The defense ministry says there is no legal problem with their lengthy absence from their barracks but refuses to elaborate on their condition.

In particular, allegations surrounding Sangchu have it that he is staying in an upscale single room open to a handful of authorized doctors and nurses, receiving casual post-surgery treatment for which critics claim hospitalization is unnecessary.

Suspicion looming

According to the ministry, Sangchu had a "critical" injury to his right shoulder last October. He underwent remedial surgery the same month but soon sustained another injury to his right ankle. He had another operation for the second injury in January and is now undergoing regular physiotherapy, the ministry explained. If everything goes smoothly, Sangchu will be discharged in August.


Coincidence or not, he sustained the first injury only two months after he was assigned to a frontline combat unit of the 15th Infantry Division headquartered in Hwacheon, Gangwon Province, a few kilometers south of the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

It was reassignment of a punitive nature for his violations of discipline at his previous unit, including leaving a designated residence without permission, wearing casual outfits while on duty, possession and use of a private cell phone, drinking alcohol without permission and even attempting to buy sex.

He previously belonged to an "entertainment soldier" squad in Seoul whose members _ mostly singers, actors or comedians _ are obliged to visit military bases to hold morale-boosting events.

Sangchu's wrongdoings during a "business trip" along with several other entertainment soldiers including then Sgt. Jung Ji-hoon (singer Rain) and Pvt. Choi Dong-uk (singer Seven), were caught by an investigative TV program in July last year. The program also reported that the squad members had been secretly offered other preferential treatment.

These findings instantly sparked a nationwide outrage and condemnation. In response, the defense ministry disbanded the squad in late July and reassigned its members to frontline combat units.

"There is no problem with the lengthy medical leave of Sgt. Lee (Sangchu)," the ministry said in a statement on April 4. "It is deemed necessary for his full recovery."

The ministry denied rumors, including one that Lee is using an upscale single room, but didn't provide detailed information about how he was injured, his current condition, what kind of treatment he has received and when the treatment will be completed.

Last week, SBS TV's entertainment show interviewed Sangchu's doctor Cho Sung-tae.

"I think he (Sangchu) had a problem with his right shoulder even before joining the military," the orthopedist said. "It deteriorated after his reassignment to the new unit."

The doctor added that it takes "up to four months" to for a shoulder to fully recover and "up to six months" to treat a torn ligament in his right ankle.

Despite the explanations, critics say there are some questions unanswered.

"Troubled shoulder? Even before entering the military?" a critic questioned. "I still remember him showing off his trademark vividly defined torso muscles on scores of TV shows. He even outdid professional athletes in extreme sports that put great pressure on the shoulders."

Kim in critical trouble?

The ministry said Sgt. Kim underwent surgery in February to treat a cartilage injury in his left knee. It said he had been injured "so badly" that the ministry is now reviewing internal guidelines to determine whether he can be subject to early discharge. He is scheduled for discharge in July.


But, as is the case with Sangchu, the defense ministry didn't provide detailed information, including his current conditions, arguing that it can infringe upon his privacy.

Kim's management agency repeated the ministry's statement, saying that the actor may delay his return to the small screen because of his knee injury.

Having served as an entertainment soldier, Kim was reassigned to a frontline combat unit of the 12th Infantry Division headquartered in Inje, Gangwon Province, last August. He was not a party to Sangchu's wrongdoings, but was suspected of having enjoyed various preferential treatment at the previous unit.

He joined the Army in October 2012 amid a draft-dodging scandal surrounding him. In 2010, he was exempt from military service due to his family poor financial condition, but later it was found that he had manipulated his earnings.

Meanwhile, a growing number of young male entertainers are seeking to fulfill their military duty at a police unit in the wake of the entertainment soldier squad's disbandment.

Several idol stars, including Sungmin of K-pop boy band Super Junior, Sungjae of Cho Shin Sung and actor Choi Jin-hyuk, were confirmed to have applied for the units last month.

The reason for the hike is simple; to fulfill conscription in a more comfortable environment. The unit is located in the heart of Seoul and its members don't take the risk of being mobilized for risky manual work and crack downs on violent protesters.

As is the case with the now-defunct entertainment soldier squad, the exclusive police unit members are responsible for hosting morale-boosting events for police officers drafted as an alternative form of military service around the country.

Having served as an entertainment soldier, Kim was reassigned to a frontline combat unit of the 12th Infantry Division headquartered in Inje, Gangwon Province, last August. He was not a party to Sangchu's wrongdoings, but was suspected of having enjoyed various preferential treatment at the previous unit.

He joined the Army in October 2012 amid a draft-dodging scandal surrounding him. In 2010, he was exempt from military service due to his family's poor financial condition, but later it was found that he had manipulated his earnings.


Meanwhile, a growing number of young male entertainers are seeking to fulfill their military duty at a police unit tasked to promote police in the wake of the entertainment soldier squad's disbandment.

Several idol stars, including Sungmin of K-pop boy band Super Junior, Sungjae of Cho Shin Sung and actor Choi Jin-hyuk, were confirmed to have applied for the units last month.

The reason for the hike is simple; to fulfill conscription in a more comfortable environment. The unit is located in the heart of Seoul and its members don't take the risk of being mobilized for risky manual work and crack downs on violent protesters.

As is the case with the now-defunct entertainment soldier squad, the unit members are responsible for hosting morale-boosting events for police officers drafted as an alternative form of military service around the country.


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