Suspect Cho (center) hides his face as he leaves the Seoul Central District Court on March 19. (Yonhap)
Amid public fury over a sexual abuse ring operating on Telegram, South Korea’s police chief on Monday vowed a thorough investigation of the case, as well as any similar crimes connected with the encrypted messaging platform.
“We will conduct a rigorous investigation by cooperating closely with law enforcement agencies overseas,” said Min Gap-ryong, commissioner general of the Korean National Police Agency, in a statement.
“We are looking into the distribution of illegal content of a sexual nature via Telegram and Discord based on tips from women’s groups and the agency’s monitoring,” he added. Discord is a relatively new and less known messaging app similar to Telegram.
Widely known as the “nth-room case,” the Telegram crime ring was busted last week with the arrest of the alleged mastermind, surnamed Cho, whom police accuse of sexually exploiting or sexually assaulting over 70 female victims, including minors. He is alleged to have coerced the victims into filming videos containing sexual content and distributed them via several paid chat rooms on Telegram.
Reflective of public anger over the case, a petition filed with Cheong Wa Dae calling for the full disclosure of Cho’s identity had garnered over 2.3 million signatures as of Monday at 5:20 p.m.
Over 1.6 million people have backed a separate petition demanding the disclosure of 260,000 users of the illegal content.
According to Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson Kang Min-seok, President Moon Jae-in touched on the need for “the police to not limit the probe to the operator of the chat room. There is a need to investigate all users of the ‘nth-room.’”
The police probe is widely expected to expand to tens of thousands of users who accessed videos of sexual content, for which some had paid up to 1.5 million won.
According to Kang, Moon referred to “offenders in the ‘nth-room’ case as cruel, destroying a person’s life. … In particular, digital sex crimes targeting minors and teenagers should be dealt with seriously.”
Moon’s remarks floated the possibility of a legal revision to strictly punish those who consume sexual content of underaged minors.
Critics have long said punishment for people who knowingly possess child pornography -- up to a year behind bars or a fine of up to 20 million won -- is a slap on the wrist.
Min took a careful stance on disclosure of Cho’s profile, saying, “Identity disclosures should be decided after a thorough review into people’s right to know, preventing the suspect from repeating the crime and effectiveness in preventing crimes among others.”
The decision on whether to disclose Cho’s identity will be made Tuesday, the police said.
The police agency’s investigative teams nationwide that focus on sexual assaults in cyberspace are cooperating with the US Homeland Security Investigations, among other law enforcement agencies.
According to Min, a team has been set up under the NPA’s Cyber Bureau to work exclusively with global IT companies and it is strengthening cooperation with social media companies abroad.
By Kim Bo-gyung (email@example.com