Seungri Is Sentenced

The former member of Big Bang is found guilty by a military court for multiple crimes, including “prostitution mediation”

Once thought to be headed for immense success for his accessible pop music as a soloist, Seungri will be heading towards jail. In what has been described by Korean media as “sex and gambling scandal” that has riveted the nation, the verdict of the court case—he was tried in military court as he enlisted for compulsory military service in March last year after being indicted in January—was thought to be a foregone conclusion. K-pop industry watchers and the media did not think he was able to extricate himself from the explosive allegations. Earlier today, Seungri was sentenced to three years in jail (it is not known if he would be sent to a military lock-up) “on multiple charges, including prostitution mediation and overseas gambling”, according to the Yonhap News Agency. Prosecutors had sought a five-year prison term for the star. He was handed down a total of nine charges, which included “the operation of an unlicensed adult entertainment establishment and embezzlement”. Seungri denied the charges. With his arrest in 2019 and the accompanying allegations, the K-pop industry was sent into a reverberant state of shock.

Seungri, whose name in his passport reads Lee Seung-hyun, was called for questioning when Burning Sun, a high-end nightclub in Gangnam that was reported to be co-owned by him, was under investigation: Initially over the alleged assault of a male guest, but soon blew up to include criminal activities that was staggeringly wide-ranging, from prostitution (as well as the trafficking of the underaged) to the mistreatment of South Korean women (the use of ‘date drugs’) to spy-cams to drug trafficking to tax evasion, even police corruption (some law enforcers allegedly colluded with the club owners). It was considered one of the biggest probes of the entertainment industry at that time, and impacted individuals—the famous and the less so—across Seoul. When he decided to quit the entertainment business following charges of “sex bribery”, Seungri admitted on Instagram that he had caused “societal disturbance”.

One of the far-reaching allegations against Seungri was that he “procured” prostitutes for VIP individuals, identified as “investors” for his nightclub and attendant businesses. These men were believed to be from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, and other countries. Curiously, even our little red dot was implicated when Seungri brought up a name, “Kimmy”, during a March 2019 interview with Chosun Ilbo, the oldest newspaper in South Korea. In a widely shared translation, Seungri was quoted saying, “In the Club Arena (another nocturnal venue linked to the star) case, it’s regarding a woman from Singapore called Kimmy. She’s the daughter of a famous soccer club owner. I’ve received a lot of help from her, so I just wanted to look out for her.” Looking out, according to Seungri, was arranging for a “female travel companion to shop with her while she was in Seoul”. The Straits Times, following the Chosun Ilbo interview, wrote: “While he did not identify who she was, speculation swirled that he was referring to socialite Kim Lim, whose billionaire father Peter Lim has a controlling stake in Spanish side Valencia.”

The talk that emerged bordered on the shocking and unseemly. Ms Lim, not a stranger to Seungri (there were social media posts of them together), was quick to act, posting on Instagram stories, three successive pages that refuted any suggestion that she was involved in the burgeoning scandal, 4,669 kilometres away. She insisted that she was at Club Arena with Singaporean friends, saying “we partied by ourselves and left after”. She was emphatic: “I’m not involved in any way whatsoever” and concluded with the warning: “Any media outlets which persist in reporting so will be hearing from my legal counsel”. Ms Lim’s outrage is understandable. Why would she, a seasoned shopper, need local shopping companion when she had company from home with her? And why should aspersions be cast on what was essentially a night out with friends?

Many Seungri fans were unable to accept the guilty verdict. On Twitter today, some of them claimed that there was “no evidence” to the purported wrongdoings, while others thought the allegations were “made up”. That Seungri could be embroiled in seedy sex crimes is still beyond the grasp of his followers. He is, among the Big Bang quartet (now a trio), the most relatable—despite his reportedly lavish lifestyle, he is not aloof; he is friendly; he is masculine; he does not dress weirdly; and he “does not come across as someone who would even have a beer with a pimp, let alone do the pimping”, as one disappointed SG fan said to us. Unfortunately, K-pop idols, like all pop idols, as the increasingly prevalent reminder goes, are humans too.

Illustration: Just So