Police book 5 teens in ‘Nth room’ copycat porn ring case

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Police book 5 teens in ‘Nth room’ copycat porn ring case

Police on Wednesday booked five teenagers for selling illegal pornography depicting exploited women and minors in a similar manner to the notorious “Nth room” trafficking ring.

The Gangwon Provincial Police Agency said two 16-year-old high school students were placed under detention for operating multiple chat rooms on the Telegram messenger app through which various types of pornographic content were shared with paying members. Three others, also minors, have been booked without detention, police said.

The suspects all went to the same middle school, and played different roles in the running of the chat rooms. According to police, the suspects collected and shared around 15,000 videos, classified into different groups based on the content. The teens are believed to have earned around 35 million won ($28,400) from the scheme while running the chat rooms from September last year to March this year.

The modus operandi of the group almost exactly mirrors the workings of a pornography trafficking ring allegedly run by Cho Ju-bin, the 24-year-old prime suspect behind one of the largest digital sex crime busts in Korean history.

Prosecutors say Cho and his co-conspirators ran a cartel that exploited what could be over a hundred victims into providing sexually explicit and degrading photographs and videos of themselves, which were then sold to chat room members in exchange for cryptocurrency.

The teens in Wednesday’s bust copied Cho’s group in the way they sold videos, police said, though it remains unclear whether they also directly took part in blackmailing victims for pornographic content.

Police also revealed Wednesday that they had booked 78 suspects accused of buying illegal pornographic content from a man surnamed Shin who was convicted of selling pornography depicting exploited victims.

Shin, 32, who went by the internet alias “Kelly,” was sentenced to just a year in prison by a local court in Chuncheon, Gangwon, last year.

The sentencing drew immense outrage from a public that accused the court of being too lenient. From January to August 2018, Shin distributed around 91,890 pornographic videos and photographs that depicted minors, and sold 2,950 of these.

Prosecutors had initially decided not to appeal the sentence, given that Shin had cooperated with the investigation, but ensuing public criticism prompted them to recant their decision last week. But by that time it was too late, as Shin chose not to appeal and accepted the one-year jail sentence.

Because of the intense scrutiny on the Cho Ju-bin bust, those who bought pornography from Shin may ironically receive harsher sentences than the distributor himself if prosecutors impose punishments on the suspects based on new digital sex crime guidelines.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]

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