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Court rejects arrest of K-pop megastar Seungri

May 15,2019
이미지뷰
K-pop star Seungri is released from the Jungnang Police Precinct in Seoul Tuesday night after the Seoul Central District Court turned down a detention warrant request for the former singer of Big Bang. [YONHAP]
A high-profile arrest in the Burning Sun nightclub scandal fizzled out Tuesday night when a court decided to let K-pop megastar Seungri walk free.

Seungri, a former member of the boy band Big Bang whose real name is Lee Seung-hyun, was led into an arrest warrant hearing at the Seoul Central District court Tuesday evening tied in ropes and led out again in the same state as the court deliberated his arrest on charges of embezzlement and soliciting prostitutes.

But two and a half hours later, he was released from a holding cell in eastern Seoul and went home a free man.

The court's presiding judge, Shin Jong-yeol, ruled that neither Seungri nor his business partner Yu In-seok were liable for arrest since there was “room for dispute” about whether they siphoned off funds from their jointly-owned company, Yuri Holdings.

The two partners are also accused of hiring prostitutes to provide sexual services on several occasions: for Japanese businessmen at a Christmas party in 2015, at Seungri’s birthday party held on an island in the Philippines in 2017 and for Seungri himself on a separate occasion. Judge Shin, however, said it was unlikely the defendants would tamper with evidence on those charges, so arrests weren’t warranted.

Seungri, who was one of the operators of the Burning Sun in southern Seoul, will face trial a free man once prosecutors formally charge him with soliciting prostitution, misappropriating funds from the club and other businesses, as well as filming videos of sexual partners without their consent – all of which he has denied.

On Wednesday, police also wrapped up a large-scale investigation into allegations that one of their officers, a senior superintendent identified only by the surname Yun, provided police protection to Burning Sun on several occasions, including abusing his power last July to dismiss a complaint against the nightclub for serving alcohol to a minor. Yun is also believed to have leaked information to Seungri and Yu about the police probe into their activities.

Police recommended to prosecutors that Yun be indicted without arrest for abuse of power. They admitted they could not find evidence of Yun allegedly receiving more than 2.68 million won ($2,254) from Yu, which was less than the limit of 3 million won per gift prohibited by the Improper Solicitation and Graft Act.

Yu allegedly treated Yun to several meals, four golf outings and three concert tickets, but police said they could not prove the reception of these gifts had any connection to the information leak, since there was a time gap of almost a year between the gifts and the leak.

This less-than-ideal conclusion to one of the most closely scrutinized cases this year has reportedly sapped morale among police, many of whom had hoped to detain Seungri in order to clear the agency's name of rumors of improper conduct and collusion with major criminal suspects, as suggested in the case against Yun.

Throughout the three months of their probe into Burning Sun, police assigned a total of 152 investigators, motivated by encouragement from Police Chief Min Gap-ryong and even President Moon Jae-in.

Seungri was grilled a total of 18 times by police, even taking a lie detector test at one point to demonstrate his compliance. This strategy of acquiescence, according to one source in the police, appears to have convinced the court that the singer did not need to be put in pretrial detention.

“It is a really difficult thing to prove whether there was collusion between the police and the club,” said one senior police officer. “So we thought the investigation should wrap up with at least Seungri being put behind bars if we were to avoid some public criticism.”

In a twist of fate, one of the biggest victims in the case so far is the initial whistle-blower of the Burning Sun scandal, Kim Sang-kyo, who was recommended for indictment by police for sexually assaulting three women and obstructing the business of the club on Nov. 24 last year. That day, Kim was engaged in a brawl at the club that led to his apprehension in Yeoksam-dong by local police, whom he later claimed had beaten him.

Kim fought back by alleging that Burning Sun was a nest of recurrent criminal activity like drug use, prostitution and sexual assault, thus opening a Pandora's Box that threatened the careers of several celebrities and restarted rumors of collusion between law enforcement and the rich and famous of Korean society.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]