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[Newsmaker] Public anger grows over Telegram underage sexual abuse ring

Suspect Cho hides his face as he leaves the Seoul Central District Court on Thursday. Yonhap
Suspect Cho hides his face as he leaves the Seoul Central District Court on Thursday. Yonhap

Public anger has exploded over a recently busted Telegram sexual abuse ring, prompting millions to sign petitions for the disclosure of the full identities of the operators as well as their tens of thousands of clients.

A petition filed with Cheong Wa Dae calling for the disclosure of the main suspect, arrested last week, quickly garnered a record number of signatures: 1.85 million as of 4 p.m. Sunday.

A separate petition calling for the disclosure of some 260,000 users of Telegram chat rooms run by the suspect surnamed Cho to share videos of sexual exploitation of at least 74 of his female victims, including 16 minors, has garnered over 1.2 million signatures.

“There is no doubt this crime against minors is appalling and repulsive, and should never recur. But this crime will recur in South Korea, if 260,000 customers face no penalties. There is no use in punishing the operators and suppliers only,” the latter petition reads.

Cho, a man in his 20s known by his Telegram nickname “Doctor,” is accused of sexual exploitation and assault on top of sharing content on the platform since December 2018.

Whether Cho’s identity will be revealed is to be decided in the coming week by a committee of three officials within the police agency and four outside the agency.

According to police, Cho tricked victims into sending him nude photos that included their face, saying it was part of a high-paying part-time job.

Cho then used the nude pictures to blackmail victims, whom he referred to as “slaves,” and coerced them into filming videos of a sexual nature, which he distributed across Telegram chat rooms.

Cho is believed to have run three types of paid chat rooms, charging between 200,000 won and 250,000 won ($160-$200) in cryptocurrency for a level 1 chatroom, 700,000 won for level 2 and 1.5 million won for level 3.

Police confiscated some 130 million won in cash at Cho’s home and are tracking the proceeds of criminal activity.

Thirteen of Cho’s alleged accomplices have been apprehended, of which four have been arrested and referred to the prosecution while nine are under police investigation, according to police.

By Kim Bo-gyung (lisakim425@heraldcorp.com)
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