Police seize data of journalist linked to illegal chat roomsPolice on Tuesday seized data belonging to a broadcast journalist accused of paying to join a massive digital pornography trafficking ring.
A special task force of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency investigating digital sex crimes obtained a warrant from a local court to raid a cloud database belonging to the reporter, who works for public broadcaster MBC.
Investigators are sifting through the suspect’s data to verify whether he had tried to join a series of chat rooms linked to the "Nth room" case on the messenger app Telegram, which were used to circulate pornography depicting the sexual exploitation of dozens of women and minors.
After catching wind of the reporter in question’s attempt to join the chat rooms, which required entry fees that were as high as hundreds of thousands of won, police tried unsuccessfully last month to raid the suspect’s offices at MBC, but prosecutors denied the warrant.
The reporter claims he paid 700,000 won ($570) to the Telegram chatroom operators in order to conduct an investigative report about the sexual exploitation in the chat rooms, but had never actually entered them.
Police found a record of the reporter’s alleged payment of that money in the cryptocurrency account of one of the prime suspects, Cho Ju-bin, who is believed to be the ringleader behind these chat rooms. The sum supposedly paid by the reporter — 700,000 won — is within the upper tier of payments made by members, which would have allowed the payer access to some of the most graphic material in the chat rooms.
Cho and his co-conspirators are accused of exploiting what could be over a hundred victims into providing sexually explicit and degrading photographs and videos of themselves, which were then sold to such paying members on Telegram.
Police say they have identified the online usernames of 15,000 members of the chat rooms who are believed to have paid to access the pornographic content. The MBC journalist was among the first paying consumers whose alleged involvement was disclosed to the media.
MBC made a public apology on April 24 for the conduct of its reporter and formed an internal committee to investigate the matter. The company said if it confirms criminality in the action, it will take a “serious measure” against the journalist, who has so far been suspended from regular work.
Prosecutors also revealed last month they had indicted and placed under pretrial detention a Buddhist monk in his 30s for allegedly distributing pornography in the Telegram chat rooms.
The suspect, 32, ran four pornographic sites himself in which he allegedly shared 8,000 different pieces of illegal pornography in addition to the material he distributed in the chat rooms. Prosecutors said that much of the pornography spread by the suspect was obtained from other online sources and that he likely distributed it for material gain.
The Jogye Order, Korea’s largest Buddhist sect, on April 20 stripped the suspect of his monk status.
BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [firstname.lastname@example.org]