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Details about Telegram porn ring probe to be released

Mar 27,2020

State prosecutors on Thursday said they will disclose the progression of their investigation into Cho Ju-bin, the suspected leader of a pornography ring that enslaved dozens of women, before he is indicted, owing to the serious nature of the case.

The decision effectively upended publicity guidelines imposed on the state prosecution service by the Justice Ministry since December last year, which were created to shield judicial proceedings on ongoing criminal cases from prejudicial media coverage.

According to a spokesperson for the state prosecution service, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office held a panel meeting Wednesday to judge the matter and arrived at an “exceptional” decision to disclose information to the press on the case before Cho is formally indicted.

“The contents of the case and its seriousness, the human rights of the suspect, the investigation’s fairness, the public’s right to know and the importance of preventing similar crimes were all factors considered [in the decision],” the prosecution said.

Cho, who was grilled by prosecutors for the first time Thursday, is accused of violating laws on sexual abuse and the Act on the Protection of Children and Juveniles from Sexual Abuse by sharing and selling videos of a total of 74 victims, including 16 minors, engaged in pornographic acts often against their will.

He was arrested March 16 after a seven-month investigation into a series of chat rooms operated on the Telegram instant messaging app that served as the conduits for the distribution of such illegal pornography.

Police say Cho also breached laws protecting personal information by colluding with a social service agent to steal victims’ private information from government databases. It is believed Cho and his conspirators planned to use the material, which included addresses and phone numbers, to blackmail victims. Public furor over the pervasive abuse in the chat rooms led police on Tuesday to reveal Cho’s identity and picture, while the suspect himself was led to publicly face the media on Wednesday.

That same pressure from the public is believed to have played a major role in pushing prosecutors toward Thursday’s rare decision to disclose the proceedings of their probe into Cho’s case. But the decision is also highly controversial as it runs contrary to a set of rules established last year aimed at doing away with what critics said was a cozy relationship between prosecutors and the press.

As part of the Moon Jae-in administration’s prosecutorial reform platform, the measures included bans on weekly media briefings by prosecutors and public summoning of suspects and witnesses to questioning sessions by prosecutors.

The prosecution service stuck by these rules even under heavy pressure from the media earlier this year on high profile cases surrounding the coronavirus outbreak, like that involving an ongoing investigation into allegations that the controversial Shincheonji church deliberately withheld information from the government.

“The ease with which prosecutors discarded the principle of confidentiality for the sake of appeasing public pressure makes me question whether they are committed to reforming their institution into one that fairly upholds justice,” an attorney who requested anonymity told the Korea JoongAng Daily.

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