Cho Ju-bin accused of scamming former mayorCho Ju-bin, the prime suspect behind an illegal pornography ring that enslaved dozens of women, is allegedly responsible for a handful of other criminal schemes, including the swindling of a former mayor of Gwangju.
Police on Tuesday said Cho, 24, approached former Gwangju Mayor Yoon Jang-hyun last year through the Telegram messaging app, introducing himself as an official of the presidential office surnamed Choi. Yoon, who was the mayor of Gwangju from 2014 to 2018, was on trial at the time for bribing a woman that turned out to be another scammer.
Cho, pretending to be Choi, offered to help Yoon by getting him a televised interview on JTBC through his relationship with the broadcaster’s President Sohn Suk-hee.
In exchange for setting it up, Cho reportedly asked Yoon for several tens of millions of won as a finder’s fee. The former mayor paid the money to a man named Park who claimed he was Choi’s associate. Police said Park was, in fact, a person Cho hired to meet Yoon in his stead in order to keep his identity hidden.
Yoon, however, was not the only victim of a series of scams that Cho allegedly directed with the help of criminal associates. He is believed to have hired a member from the Telegram chat room he operated to pretend to be him in order to defraud a freelance journalist embroiled in a legal battle with JTBC’s President Sohn.
The associate also acted as a key accessory to Cho in blackmailing 75 victims - many of who were minors - into sending pornographic photos and videos of themselves, which were then distributed through the Telegram chat rooms to paying members.
Police said Cho also tapped into this network of criminal associates to make contact with well known personalities like Yoon and Sohn. One associate, a man in his 20s who was doing his mandatory military service as a social service agent at a community service center in Songpa District, southern Seoul, helped Cho get access to the private information of around 30 famous people, including celebrities, from the government’s database.
Another social service agent working at the Yeongtong District Office in Suwon, Gyeonggi, also fed Cho private information through the office’s network in exchange for Cho allegedly helping him conspire to murder the daughter of a teacher. This suspect, surnamed Kang, was arrested in January and is under investigation for his ties to Cho.
Three others accused of helping Cho operate the chat rooms are also under detention and subject to further investigations by police. There may, however, be even more fake identities that Cho created to facilitate his activities, police suspect. On Telegram he introduced himself to members as a 46-year-old man who had fled to China after operating a private investigation agency in Korea. In public, he propped up an image as a responsible citizen by frequently volunteering at orphanages and disability centers following his graduation from college.
In 2018, he even received a commendation from the Incheon Police Precinct for reporting an online scammer and drug dealer to the police.
For now, police say they will focus their efforts on the illegal pornography ring and uncovering the identity of its members. “We plan to concentrate on thoroughly investigating all the suspects, with the goal of subjecting all of them to strict law enforcement,” said a police spokesperson Wednesday.
BY JEONG JIN-HO, PYUN GWANG-HYUN [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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