What is Burning Sun scandal? Revisiting ex-BIGBANG's Seungri, Jung Joon Young's involvement in sexual offenses case that shook K-pop world

Let’s take a look at one of the biggest and most infamous scandals that shook South Korea: the Burning Sun scandal involving BIGBANG’s Seungri, Jung Joon Hyung, and others.

Published on May 20, 2024  |  08:13 PM IST |  547.1K
Seungri (Image Credits- YG Ent), Jung Joon Hyung (Image Credits-C9 Entertainment)
Seungri (Image Credits- YG Ent), Jung Joon Hyung (Image Credits-C9 Entertainment)

Trigger Warning: This article contains references to alcohol, drugs, sexual abuse, and rape.

The Burning Sun scandal, also referred to as Burning Sun Gate, was a 2019 entertainment and sex scandal in Seoul, South Korea, implicating numerous celebrities, including idols from popular K-pop groups, as well as police officials. With the recent release of BBC's documentary on the extensive Burning Sun scandal, renewed attention has been drawn to the case. 

The scandal has sent shockwaves throughout the K-Pop industry, with multiple idols, such as Seungri (BIGBANG), Jung Joon Young, Jonghyun (CNBLUE), Junhyung (Highlight), and Jonghun (F.T. Island), being implicated in enabling and even operating a secret sex chatroom. Let’s take a look at what the controversy was and how it unfolded.

The infamous chatroom

The Jung Joon Young KakaoTalk chatrooms are integral to the Burning Sun scandal. These two scandals became intertwined through the release of incriminating KakaoTalk messages, which revealed crimes occurring at the Burning Sun nightclub. Additionally, they were linked separately to K-pop singer and entertainer Jung Joon Young and his circle of friends and colleagues.

Leaked KakaoTalk messages retrieved from Jung Joon Young's phone showcased conversations and videos spanning from 2015 to 2016. These revelations became crucial evidence in a police investigation that led to gang rape convictions involving two separate victims, with Jung Joon Young and four other chatroom members, including Choi Jong Hoon of F.T. Island, a former Burning Sun employee named Kim, a businessman named Kwon, and a former YG Entertainment employee named Heo. 

Jung Joon Hyung was convicted on multiple charges, including eleven counts of illegal filming and sharing of unconscious women. Seungri, a member of BIGBANG and a central figure in the Burning Sun scandal, faced charges concurrently with Jung and Choi for sharing illegal photos in Jung's chatrooms. He was later found guilty on nine charges related to the Burning Sun scandal, including three instances of sharing illicit photos via a mobile chatroom.

The KakaoTalk messages were sourced from a lawyer named Bang Jung Hyun, who claimed to have received them from a whistleblower. This whistleblower, a technician at a phone repair shop where Jung Joon Hyung had taken his phone for repairs, sent an email to the layer containing thousands of messages extracted from Jung's phone over an eight-month period in 2015 and 2016. These messages implicated Jung, Seungri, and other male celebrities in discussions that revealed not only sex crimes but also a close relationship between them and high-ranking police officers.

On March 14, 2019, two more singers, Yong Jun Hyung of HIGHLIGHT and Choi Jong Hoon of F.T. Island, announced their retirement from their respective music groups amidst speculation of their involvement in Jung's chatrooms. Yong Jun Hyung confessed to having watched one of Jung's unauthorized sex tapes and engaging in "inappropriate conversations" about it, admitting his foolishness. Choi Jong Hoon was revealed to have been a member of one of the chatrooms, where he allegedly disclosed his involvement in a drunk driving incident from 2016. This incident remained undisclosed to the media due to help from a police official with the surname Yoon.

On March 15, another Korean idol, Lee Jonghyun of the rock band CNBLUE, admitted to having viewed Jung's sex videos in a group chatroom and making derogatory remarks about women, objectifying them. Jonghyun departed from CNBLUE in August following revelations from a female YouTuber who exposed private messages he had sent her, which Billboard noted "drew fresh attention to his inappropriate interactions with and comments about women."

Furthermore, the scandal affected actor Cha Tae Hyun and comedian Kim Jun Ho, both fellow cast members of Jung on the variety show 2 Days & 1 Night. On March 16, after revelations from the chatroom conversations suggested they had allegedly engaged in high-stakes gambling while playing golf overseas.

Jung Joon Young was arrested on March 21, 2019, and faced charges related to crimes against at least ten victims involving the illegal filming and distribution of sex tapes. He admitted to the charges brought against him. Subsequently, he was formally indicted on April 17.

On April 2, 2019, the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency issued a summons for singer-songwriter Roy Kim, alleging his presence in the illegal chatroom alongside Jung Joon Young, Seungri, and Choi. The following day, Roy Kim was booked for allegedly distributing an obscene photo in the chatroom, a claim he denied, asserting he did not take the picture himself.

On April 3, Label SJ, the agency representing Kangin of the boy band Super Junior, released a statement confirming Kangin's membership in Jung's chatroom during their collaboration on the television show Hitmaker three years prior. The agency denied any illegal activity on Kangin's part. Additionally, on April 5, singer-songwriter Eddy Kim was booked for circulating one or more illegally obtained photographs from the chatrooms. But they were later released and cleared. The investigation identified a total of 23 different groups or one-on-one chatrooms, involving 16 participants in total.

On May 12, an appellate court reduced the prison sentences for three defendants in the Burning Sun scandal. Jung Joon Young's sentence was reduced to five years from six, Choi Jong Hoon's to two-and-a-half years from five, and Kim's to four years from five. Additionally, Jung and Choi were denied probation, mandated to attend treatment programs, and restricted from working with children and teens.

Burning Sun club scandal

The main incident linked to the chatroom scandal is the Burning Sun nightclub case. It began on January 28, 2019, when MBC Newsdesk reported the alleged assault of a male clubgoer by a staff member at Burning Sun, a prominent nightclub in Gangnam, in November 2018. The investigation by the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency soon expanded to include allegations of prostitution, drug trafficking, and police corruption connected to the club. BIGBANG’s, one of the club's directors, subsequently resigned from the entertainment industry on March 11, 2019, after being charged with sexual bribery.

The scandal quickly expanded to include allegations of rape and spy cams when singer and entertainer Jung Joon Young confessed to secretly filming himself having sex with women and sharing the videos without their knowledge or consent. This revelation was tied to the aforementioned Jung Joon Young KakaoTalk chatrooms.

Legal proceedings stemming from the Burning Sun scandal continued into 2021. Although several police officers were disciplined for their actions involving the nightclub, the two highest-profile cases ended in acquittals. Burning Sun's co-CEO, Lee Sung Hyun, testified that he had paid a former police officer named Kang to cover up an incident involving an underage clubgoer, but Kang's one-year prison sentence was overturned due to lack of evidence. Additionally, a senior police official, Yoon Gyu Geun, was arrested for allegations of bribery and mediating favors for the Burning Sun club and was found not guilty in his first trial.

Other verdicts included Burning Sun's co-CEO, Lee Moon-ho, receiving a one-year prison sentence for habitual drug use, including ecstasy and ketamine in Gangnam clubs. One of the club's promoters, MD Cho, was sentenced to four years and six months for drug use and smuggling.

Due to public interest in the scandal, police conducted extensive drug sweeps at entertainment venues, resulting in hundreds of drug-related arrests. These arrests frequently involved ecstasy and GHB, a common date rape drug. The sweeps also uncovered numerous cases of sexual assault, rape, and the filming of illegal videos during drug use.

Seungri's business associate, Yoo In Seok, admitted to providing potential Japanese investors with prostitutes and received a suspended sentence of three years probation along with an embezzlement charge. Seungri's case concluded in January 2022 in a military appeals court, where his prison sentence was reduced to one and a half years, along with a fine. He faced nine charges, including habitual overseas gambling, illegal money transactions, prostitution mediation, and purchase, violence instigation, violation of the Specific Economic Crimes Act, embezzlement, sharing illicit photos, and a business operations violation.

Aftermath of Burning Sun Scandal 

The scandal amplified ongoing discussions about women's issues in South Korea, including gender inequality, the Me Too movement, feminism, molka (spy cameras), prostitution, and the K-pop industry's attitude toward women. South Korea's #MeToo movement, which began in January 2018, was followed by the #SchoolMeToo movement among students. 

In July 2018, thousands marched in Seoul against spy cameras. The government responded by hiring workers to monitor public bathrooms, but activists criticized a general dismissive attitude towards these crimes, pointing to deeply rooted gender inequality and misogyny in the country. As those involved in the horrific and outrageous scandal walk free, the real question remains: how much has truly changed, if at all?

Disclaimer: If you know someone who is struggling with alcohol or substance abuse, please reach out to the authorities and report it. There are several helplines available for the same. And If you need support or know someone who is struggling with violence or assault or abuse, please reach out to your nearest mental health specialist, NGO or speak to someone about it. There are several helplines available for the same.

ALSO READ:  Burning Sun Scandal: Former BIGBANG member Seungri’s role in sexual harassment revealed in new documentary; Read here

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About The Author

Pratyusha Dash is an English Literature Graduate from Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies with a deep passion for Korean

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