Seungri, a former member of the K-Pop boy group BIGBANG, has been involved in scandals since early 2019. From illicit chatrooms to ongoing police investigations, here is a complete recap of Seungri’s controversies from 2019 until now.
Seungri’s Connections to Burning Sun and Other Nightclubs
The initial controversy involving Seungri began in November 2018 at Burning Sun, a Gangnam nightclub that opened at Le Méridien Seoul hotel in February that year. Seungri often DJ’d at this club, nicknamed “Seungri’s Club”.
Burning Sun’s CEOs were Lee Moon Ho and Lee Sung Hyun. Although Seungri did not own Burning Sun, he was one of seven in-house directors and a major shareholder for Burning Sun Entertainment, who operated the club. At the time of Burning Sun’s establishment, Yuri Holdings (a business Seungri co-founded with Yoo In Suk in March 2016) owned 40% of Burning Sun Entertainment’s shares. According to a police report shared by Yonhap News, Yuri Holdings held only 20% of these shares by April 2019. Half of their original shares were transferred to Madam Lin, a Taiwanese businesswoman and acquaintance of Seungri’s.
Although Seungri’s name was used to promote Burning Sun in 2018, Seungri has stated that CEO Lee Moon Ho was actually in charge of Burning Sun’s daily operations. Today, Seungri’s degree of involvement in Burning Sun’s business management is still unclear. KakaoTalk messages, obtained by Korean news outlets, allegedly show Seungri giving direct orders to Burning Sun staff, such as strengthening ID checks.
The true “Seungri Club” is Monkey Museum, a Gangnam club Seungri opened himself in July 2016. Seungri co-owned the club with Yoo In Suk and several other friends. While investigating illegal activities at Burning Sun, police also investigated Monkey Museum. This investigation ended with Seungri being charged with the illegal operation as a bar when Monkey Museum was registered as a restaurant. Monkey Museum was also tied to embezzlement charges made against Seungri.
Another club that is affiliated with, but not owned or operated by, Seungri is club ARENA, a celebrity hotspot that opened in Gangnam in 2014. Seungri and Yoo In Suk are alleged to have solicited prostitution for their foreign investors here.
Kim Sang Kyo’s Assault at Burning Sun
The assault of Burning Sun club patron Kim Sang Kyo was the catalyst for the investigations made into Burning Sun and Seungri. On November 24, 2018, Kim Sang Kyo was assaulted at the club after he stepped in to help a woman who was being sexually harassed. The club’s staff dragged Kim Sang Kyo out of the club and beat him.
When Yeoksam police arrived, Kim Sang Kyo was arrested as the assailant and booked on multiple charges, including criminal battery. In his petition to the Blue House, Kim Sang Kyo revealed that he was assaulted by police officers on his way to Yeoksam police station, outside of the station, and inside the station. He was later transferred to Gangnam police station, where he witnessed more police corruption.
Kim Sang Kyo revealed his assault at Burning Sun to the public on January 28, 2019, in an online post. He also mentioned other illegal activity he witnessed at the club, including the drugging of female customers by staff, and the police’s collusion with staff.
The Initial Burning Sun Investigations
By January 31, 2019, the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency (SMPA) had begun investigating Burning Sun and its owners for collusion with the police, drug use and distribution, sexual violence, and Kim Sang Kyo’s assault. Seungri was also investigated, to find out if he was directly involved in any of the aforementioned illegal activities.
An official statement, made by Seungri’s agency at the time, YG Entertainment, states that Seungri was at the club on the night of Kim Sang Kyo’s assault, but he left before the assault occurred.
Seungri’s Prostitution Solicitation Allegations And First Arrest Warrant Request
In February 2019, Korean news outlets revealed chatroom messages dating back to 2015. These messages detailed the arrangements Seungri allegedly made to procure prostitutes for his foreign investors, at club ARENA.
When Seungri reported to the police station for questioning on February 27, he denied these allegations, as well as allegations that he was involved with illegal activities at Burning Sun. At this time, Seungri denied knowledge of the Burning Sun KakaoTalk messages, and also denied drug use.
Seungri was booked without detention on March 9 on sex bribery charges.
In an attempt to get to the bottom of the case and attempt to clear Seungri of the suspicions surrounding him, we have booked Seungri as a suspect for the allegations of him ‘soliciting prostitution’ in order to receive a search warrant for the club ARENA, which is accused of allowing prostitution inside its venue.
— Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency
During another round of police questioning in April 2019, Seungri once again denied soliciting prostitutes for investors. Yoo In Suk, however, admitted to supplying prostitutes to investors at ARENA in December 2015.
After securing financial transaction records that showed Seungri paying large amounts of money to women from adult entertainment centers, SMPA requested an arrest warrant for Seungri on the basis of prostitution solicitation for investors and for himself. In 2017, Seungri invited 8 employees from adult entertainment centers to his lavish birthday party in Palawan, Philippines. The women provided testimonies to the police stating that Seungri never orchestrated or forced them to have sex with investors present at the party. All sexual activity was voluntary on their own part.
In May 2019, police officially requested Seungri’s arrest warrant, but the arrest warrant was denied.
Embezzlement And Police Bribery Accusations
In addition to prostitution solicitation allegations, Seungri also had embezzlement and police bribery allegations made against him. In April 2019, Seungri and Yoo In Suk were both booked for embezzlement of funds from Monkey Museum. In May, Seungri was also summoned for questioning about alleged embezzlement of Burning Sun funds for the first time.
Around this time, Seungri was also charged with bribing a police officer. He admitted to giving Senior Superintendent Yoon and his wife three tickets to BIGBANG concerts. According to the Anti Bribery and Graft Act, public officials and their spouses are not allowed to accept gifts worth more than 50,000 won.
Illicit Kakao Chatrooms And Seungri’s Involvement
Burning Sun Employees
In February and March 2019, Korean news outlets revealed many Kakao chatlogs, leading to confusion and suspicion about who was involved in which chatrooms. One set of logs from a KakaoTalk group chat involved sexual violence at Burning Sun. In these chats, the club’s employees talked about the drugging and raping of women. Seungri has stated that he was not involved in these chats.
Seungri, Club Employees, and Foreign Investors
As previously mentioned, Seungri was allegedly involved in KakaoTalk chat conversations from 2015 where prostitutes were discussed. In these chats, Seungri, Yoo In Suk, and club employees reportedly arranged for prostitutes to be brought to foreign investors as business favors.
Jung Joon Young
Many celebrities were part of Jung Joon Young‘s Kakao chatrooms that date back to 2015 and 2016. According to a police tally made in April 2019, there were 23 different chatrooms (including one-on-one chats) with 16 participants. Seungri, a friend of Jung Joon Young, was a member of at least one of these chatrooms.
In a press conference, held in March 2019, Seungri explained that he tried to persuade Jung Joon Young to not film or share the illegal hidden camera videos.
The things in the KakaoTalk chat rooms, aren’t they about my life? Why didn’t I stop it? I told Jung Joon Young to stop doing things like [taking hidden camera videos], he could get in big trouble. I didn’t just say that to Jung Joon Young, I told everyone in the chatroom.
The other known chatroom members are as follows: former F.T. Island member Choi Jong Hoon, Kwon Hyuk Joon (businessman and brother of Girls’ Generation‘s Yuri), Burning Sun MD “Kim”, former YG Entertainment agency employee “Heo”, Yoo In Suk, Roy Kim, Eddy Kim, former HIGHLIGHT member Yong Junhyung, former CNBLUE member Lee Jonghyun, former Super Junior member Kangin, 2AM‘s Jinwoon, and model Lee Cheol Woo.
In some of these chatrooms, participants spoke about women as sexual objects, shared stories of their sexcapades, shared secretly filmed videos of consensual sex, and shared videos of chatroom members raping drugged women.
Each chatroom member’s degree of involvement varies. Kangin, Jinwoon, and Lee Cheol Woo have all stated that they were part of Jung Joon Young’s chatrooms for work purposes, and they were not involved in any illegal activities. Yong Junhyung has admitted to viewing a sex video filmed without a woman’s permission and participating in conversations about it. Lee Jonghyun admitted to watching sex videos in the chat and making sexually inappropriate remarks about women.
During investigations for Jung Joon Young, Seungri, Roy Kim, and Eddy Kim were all investigated for allegedly sharing one illicit photograph in a chatroom. Seungri was charged with illegal distribution of this photo, as well as the illegal distribution of sex videos.
Based on Jung Joon Young‘s group chat records, Seungri has also been suspected of managing at least one of Jung Joon Young’s chatrooms. It was reported that Seungri allegedly ordered members of the group chat to “leave the room” on a regular basis.
In November 2019, Jung Joon Young, Choi Jong Hoon, Kwon Hyuk Joon, MD “Kim”, and “Heo” became the first chatroom members to receive convictions and prison sentences for their crimes.
Seungri and former YG Entertainment CEO Yang Hyun Suk were accused of habitual gambling overseas between 2014 and 2019. In October 2019, they were each charged with habitual gambling and their cases were forwarded to the prosecution. During investigations, police discovered that Seungri gambled around ₩1 billion KRW ($860,659 USD).
Shortly after investigations for Burning Sun began, Seungri was accused of being involved in Burning Sun’s drug activities. It was discovered that he had personally taken photos with Aena, a woman who formerly worked at the Burning Sun as a promoter. She has been accused of dealing drugs to the club’s customers. Seungri explained that the woman, whom he does not know, asked to take a picture with him. He said that he often takes photos with fans who ask for them.
In the months that followed, police investigated Seungri’s potential drug usage in connection to Burning Sun. Seungri took a drug test that came back negative. Police received a credible testimony that contradicts Seungri’s test results, but they reportedly had difficulty fully investigating Seungri’s drug accusations, as there was no time or location disclosed. Seungri maintains that he did not take drugs.
Seungri in 2020
Current Charges and Second Arrest Warrant
On January 8, 2020, the prosecution filed for an arrest warrant with seven charges. Those charges include the same five from Seungri’s May 2019 arrest warrant request: prostitution, prostitution solicitation, violation of the Food and Sanitation Act, embezzlement categorized as specific economic crime, and workplace embezzlement. The two additional charges are: violating the foreign transaction act and habitual gambling.
Once again, the arrest warrant was denied. Following hours of deliberation, it was determined by the court that Seungri would not be arrested.
It is difficult to recognize the reason for an arrest after investigating the charges, the degree of involvement by the suspect in some charges, the process of the investigation, and the gathering of evidence.
The suspect has also cooperated in the investigations, and there is the possibility of contention within the charges.
— Song Kyung Ho
Since 2019, Seungri’s mandatory military enlistment has been delayed due to ongoing police investigations. Seungri will reportedly be enlisting sometime near mid-February. The Korean Military Manpower Association plans to schedule his official enlistment date now that the prosecution appears to be concluding investigations into his accusations.
Once Seungri enlists, he will be trained in active duty for five weeks and then handed over to military prosecutors for investigations and court trials.