In rare move, name of Telegram trafficker disclosed
Cho Ju-bin, 25, is the suspect who operated a series of chat rooms using the Telegram instant messaging app to sell illegal pornographic materials that he had produced through sex trafficking, the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency said Tuesday.
The police said the decision to disclose such personal information as the suspect’s full name and age was approved by an internal review panel composed of three agency officials and four outside experts including a lawyer and a psychologist.
“The panel gave enough consideration to reasons to keep his identity secret, such as the suspect’s rights and damages his family and friends are expected to suffer,” the police said.
“The decision, however, was made to reveal his identity because he enslaved multiple women and created and distributed videos through sexual exploitation. His crimes were vicious and repetitive.”
The suspect’s name, age and a high school yearbook photo were released Tuesday, and the police will allow media to photograph him around 8 a.m. on Wednesday when he is scheduled to be handed over to the prosecution for further investigation and indictment.
He was detained at the Jongno Police Precinct in central Seoul since his arrest on March 16.
The police captured Cho after a seven-month investigation into the Telegram pornography ring and formally detained him with a court warrant on March 19.
He was accused of sex trafficking at least 74 victims, including 16 children and teens, producing illegal pornographic materials and distributing them for profit from December 2018 till March this year. He was known as “Baksa,” meaning doctor or guru in Korean.
He allegedly carved his nickname Baksa into the skin of some victims to claim them as his property.
At first, Cho denied all allegations against him. He attempted to injure himself during interrogation, police said, and pretended to have symptoms of the new coronavirus infection while he was in police custody. He later confessed that he was Baksa.
Cho is the first suspect whose identity was revealed under the Act on Special Cases Concerning the Punishment of Sexual Crimes.
“If a public prosecutor or a judicial police officer has sufficient grounds to believe that the suspect of a sexual crime has committed such crime and deems it necessary solely for the public interest, such as guaranteeing citizens' right to know, preventing the suspect from repeating such crime, and preventing similar crimes, he or she may disclose the name, face, age and other personal details of the suspect,” says Article 25 of the act.
The police said Tuesday it has obtained enough physical evidence and statements to conclude that Cho had committed the crimes.
In the past, the police released personal information about a few murder suspects who committed particularly heinous crimes based on a different law, the Act on Special Cases Concerning the Punishment of Specific Violent Crimes.
While the police released basic personal information about Cho Tuesday afternoon, the media preceded them. SBS aired the first report disclosing his identity, and other media organizations quickly followed. Many media outlets including this one published his age previously.
Various old photos of Cho were also published by the media.
According to the JoongAng Ilbo, Cho graduated from a technical college in Incheon in 2018. Majoring in information communications, Cho was a scholarship student with good grades.
He also worked as a reporter for the college newspaper when he was a freshman in 2014. In 2015, fellow reporters elected him editor in chief. One of his articles was about the college’s efforts to prevent sexual violence and abuse on campus.
Following graduation, Cho worked for a volunteer group in Incheon, heading a team specialized in helping people with disabilities. He volunteered at orphanages, and his work was described by local media last year.
The media and police revealed Cho’s identity after public demands rose for the release of his full name and those of his clients. The police estimate that Cho’s chat rooms had about 10,000 subscribers.
According to the Blue House, its petition board received several demands for the identities of Baksa and subscribers to his service. Five such petitions received over 5 million signatures from March 19 through Tuesday.
If a Blue House petition gets more than 200,000 signatures within 30 days, the Blue House is supposed to formally respond.
In response to the petitions, Korean National Police Agency Commissioner General Min Gap-ryong said Tuesday that the police would go after Cho’s clients, who would be treated as accomplices.
The police are tracing Cho’s clients by tracking their payments. Cho received membership fees in cryptocurrencies. The police recently raided a cryptocurrency trader and obtained a list of some people who paid Cho to use his chat rooms.
A special crackdown on cyberspace sex crimes will continue until the end of this year, and the police will work with foreign agencies including Interpol, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations and global technology companies such as Google to go after servers overseas.
Gender Equality and Family Minister Lee Jung-ok also said Tuesday that the ministry asked the Supreme Court to create a new standard to recommend maximum punishments for cyberspace sex offenders. Lee also vowed to support efforts to revise the laws governing sex crimes in the digital age.
“We will more sternly counter crimes against children and teens,” she said. “We will create legal grounds to punish online grooming activities and blackmailing of children and teens.”
Korea’s mild punishments for cyberspace sex crimes have long been criticized by the public, particularly by women’s rights groups.
Creating or distributing photographs or videos against the will of a person photographed is punishable by up to five years in prison or a fine of up to 30 million won ($23,700).
Possession of child porn with knowledge that it is child porn is only punishable by a maximum one-year jail term or a fine of 20 million won.
Last month, the prosecution indicted a 38-year-old man who ran a Telegram porn chat room business similar to Cho’s.
Based on current laws, the Suwon District Prosecutors’ Office asked the court to punish the man, known as “Watchman,” with a jail term of three years and six months.
He was indicted for distributing illegal pornographic materials through Telegram chat rooms since September last year.
He posted 9,099 photos and 2,301 videos, and 95 of the images and 12 videos were child pornography.
“We didn’t know his link to Cho’s Telegram sex crime ring,” a prosecution official told the JoongAng Ilbo on Tuesday.
“But we want to investigate his connection to other cases such as Baksa. We asked the court to hear our case, and we will make sure he will face heavy punishments through additional investigations and arguments.”
The Suwon District Court, which scheduled sentencing for April 9, accepted the prosecution’s request. It said the court will hear prosecutors’ additional arguments on April 6.
BY SER MYO-JA [firstname.lastname@example.org]