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Burning Sun scandal in K-pop industry resurfaces after BBC documentary

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An image from the BBC documentary

An image from the BBC documentary "Burning Sun: Exposing the Secret K-pop Chat Groups" shows K-pop singers Seungri, left, and Jung Joon-young, third from left. Captured from BBC News Korea's YouTube

By Park Jin-hai

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has released a new documentary, "Burning Sun: Exposing the Secret K-pop Chat Group," revisiting the 2019 sex and drug scandal involving K-pop stars and highlighting the dark side of the K-pop industry.

The documentary focuses on the events surrounding the Burning Sun nightclub, which was associated with Seungri of K-pop boy band BIGBANG, and delves into allegations of sexual assault and illicit activities which were reportedly carried out by prominent figures within the K-pop scene.

The one-hour documentary is based on the testimonies of two female journalists in Seoul. Park Hyo-sil, who first broke the story on allegations of singer-songwriter Jung Joon-young's voyeur videos recorded his girlfriend in 2016.

Reporter Kang Kyung-yoon covered the Burning Sun scandal three years later, after obtaining forensic data from Jung's mobile phone showing that Jung, Seungri and Choi Jong-hoon of FT Island were all key members of a group chat on KakaoTalk, a popular Korean instant messaging app. These celebrities lived a double life, drugging and sexually assaulting female customers at the nightclub. They also illegally filmed the victims and shared the footage with each other and other celebrity friends.

In addition to interviews with the victims, the documentary revealed previously unseen footage of the perpetrators. A clip from the documentary shows Seungri grabbing a woman's arm roughly, raising his hand in a threatening manner and shouting at her, seemingly at a party, saying "Shut up! Shut up, follow me!" and bragging about being a member of the famous group BIGBANG at a drinking party.

Jung Joon-young's words are seen in a KakaoTalk group chat.  Captured from BBC News Korea's YouTube channel

Jung Joon-young's words are seen in a KakaoTalk group chat. Captured from BBC News Korea's YouTube channel

A former employee of Burning Sun said that gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB), a depressant often used as a date rape drug, was common in private rooms at the club, adding that he saw women unconscious after being given GHB at Burning Sun almost every day.

For the first time, the documentary revealed that late K-pop singer Goo Ha-ra of girl band Kara played a crucial role in exposing allegations of collusion between police and the entertainment establishment in the Burning Sun scandal.

Reporter Kang said one of the biggest questions while investigating the scandal was the identify of a so-called "police prosecutor general" who was frequently mentioned in the group chat, who seemed to be a police official who helped them get away with illegal activities.

Goo, who described herself as a victim of "revenge porn," offered to help Kang and urged Choi to reveal everything that he knows and to prove that the senior police official was not a fictional character but a real person named Yoon Kyu-keun who was dispatched to the presidential residence.

"Ha-ra had helped Choi admit it. Ha-ra was a very brave woman," the reporter recalled in the documentary.

The three were eventually convicted by the courts and imprisoned. Seungri served one year and six months and was released from prison on Feb. 9, 2023. He was found guilty of various crimes including pimping, overseas gambling and procuring prostitution services.

Jung was released from prison in March, after serving five years behind bars for a gang rape offense. Choi was released from prison in November 2021, after serving two and a half years. The high-ranking police official was acquitted of all charges related to the members of the group chat.

The BBC documentary has garnered significant attention, amassing over 3.6 million views on YouTube as of Tuesday, just two days after its release, reflecting the continued global interest in the implications of the scandal and its impact on the K-pop industry.

Park Jin-hai


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