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Widow of singer Kim was defamed, say police

July 04,2018
Police concluded on Tuesday that a notable journalist’s recent film could be libelous for suggesting that the wife of an iconic folk singer was responsible for his and their daughter’s enigmatic deaths decades ago.

The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency announced Tuesday that it would recommend to prosecutors that Lee Sang-ho, a TV journalist and documentary filmmaker, be indicted on libel charges for the accusations raised in his recent film, “Suicide Made.”

Released last August, the film explores the life of folk rock legend Kim Kwang-seok and the mysterious circumstances surrounding his untimely death at the age of 31 on Jan. 6, 1996, which was deemed a suicide at the time. For decades several critics have suggested that foul play may have been involved. Lee’s film - a product of years of relentless probing by the journalist - singled out Kim’s wife Seoh Hai-soon, now 52, as being behind the deaths.

Seoh sued Lee for libel last November, prompting a half-year long police investigation leading to Tuesday’s conclusion.

Lee was responsible for uncovering the fact that Kim and Seoh’s only child, Kim Seo-yeon, died in 2007 at the age of 16. He filed a complaint with prosecutors last September accusing Seoh of hiding her daughter’s death from Kim’s family while engaged in a legal battle with them over the ownership of Kim’s work.

Police eventually concluded that the daughter died of acute pneumonia, but Lee has suggested it might have been homicide. Seoh kept her daughter’s death a secret from the Supreme Court when it ruled in 2008 that the younger Kim was the legal inheritor of her father’s estate, including copyrights to his music.

Following an investigation in December, prosecutors concluded that there was no evidence that Seoh caused her daughter’s death.

Kim Kwang-seok remains beloved by much of the Korean public for wistful songs that music critics say captured individuals’ sorrow in the rapidly changing society of the 1990s. He may be best known for his hits “Letter from a Private” and “Love has Gone.”

His death in 1996 sent shockwaves across the nation after he was found with an electric cord around his neck. The lack of a will and a string of controversial comments by Seoh over the next two decades led many to speculate that she had a hand in her husband’s death despite a legal ruling that determined otherwise.

Police said that journalist Lee has the right to address speculation about Kim’s death given that it was a case that continues to get national attention, but they considered Lee’s use of the term “murderer” in the film without definitive proof as libel.

“We also talked to professionals interviewed by Lee, and they expressed discomfort with the fact that their words were distorted to fit an unexpected conclusion in the film,” police said on Tuesday. “Lee’s accusations can be judged as false based on the collection of evidence relating to Kim’s death including medical and autopsy reports, the death certificate, and interviews with 32 related witnesses such as medical examiners and emergency responders.”

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