A South Korean national who operated the world’s largest child pornography website will not be sent to the US to face trial there, a local court ruled Monday, rejecting a US request for his extradition.
The Seoul High Court, at its third and final hearing on the high-profile case, said that there are justifiable reasons not to extradite Son Jong-woo, the mastermind behind the US-based child porn website Welcome to Video. It is in the national interest to keep Son in Korea and further the ongoing probe into the makings of child and adolescent pornography, it added.
“It is important to consider that local investigative efforts could face road blocks if Son is extradited to the United States,” the court said in its decision. “It is desirable for South Korea to exercise its jurisdiction over his case.”
Following the decision, Son was set free from a detention center.
The 24-year-old has been wanted by US authorities since a US federal grand jury indicted him in 2018 on nine charges, including producing, advertising and distributing child pornography, as well as conspiracy and money laundering.
According to the US Justice Department, Son’s porn site contained more than 250,000 videos, or around 8 terabytes of child pornography, making it “the largest child sexual exploitation market by volume of content.”
Son was arrested in Korea in March 2018 following a joint investigation among Korean, US and British authorities. The same year, he was sentenced by a local court to 18 months in prison for producing and circulating images of child sexual abuse.
The child porn site operator has remained in detention since completing his prison sentence on April 27, as the extradition process had been opened upon the US Justice Department’s request last year.
Son’s case came to public attention when his father in May filed a public petition on the website of the presidential office asking not to extradite Son to the US, where he would face much stronger punishment. It also shed light on how lenient South Korea is on sex crimes involving minors.
In an apparent bid to block Son’s extradition and the possibility of facing harsher punishment in the US, the father filed a complaint against Son with the prosecution for violation of the law on concealing criminal proceedings. It is one of the nine charges Son is sought after by the US and one that he did not face in his trial here.
Son is suspected of collecting 400 million won ($335,000) in virtual currency for providing videos of child sexual exploitation to some 4,000 people on the dark web over a period of two years and eight months starting in July 2015.
The investigation into the money laundering charge will kick off soon, which could lead to additional prison time.
“The decision (not to send Son) should not be seen as exonerating Son,” the Seoul court said in the ruling. “We hope Son to actively cooperate with the investigation and be given the right punishment for his crimes.”
Monday’s ruling once again ignited debate over the leniency of the Korean judicial system against child pornography.
A public petition was filed on the presidential website condemning the judge for allowing Son to avoid a harsher penalty in the US and claiming the absurdity of the penalty given to Son by the Korean court.
“A person who stole a box of eggs was sentenced to 18 months in prison, the same given to Son by our court. Where’s justice in that?” the petition argues.
Many were infuriated on social media over the local court’s decision, arguing that Son should have been extradited to the US as the punishment for money laundering is also too light in Korea. Money launderers in Korea could face up to five years in prison or a fine of 30 million won, but in the US they can face up to 20 years in prison.
By Ko Jun-tae (firstname.lastname@example.org