Promotional image for audition program “Produce 101” (Mnet)
Two talent management agency executives have been sentenced to fines on charges of rigging votes on a popular K-pop audition program in which their trainees were competing, judicial sources said Friday.
According to the sources, the Seoul Central District Court has slapped Kim Kwang-soo, the founder and chief production director of MBK Entertainment, with a fine of 10 million won ($9,090) on account of business obstruction.
Another man surnamed Park, the CEO of Pocketdol Studio, which is a subsidiary of MBK, was given the same sentence of a 10 million-won fine on the same charge.
The two were indicted on charges of casting false votes in the first season of the popular vote-based Mnet audition show "Produce 101," which ran in 2016.
Together, they bought some 10,000 online accounts and had their employees vote for three contenders fielded by the agencies under borrowed names on the Mnet website.
As a result, 89,228 false votes were cast by MBK employees in the third and the final rounds of the show's tournament, although it did not alter the show's final results, according to the court.
"The defendants played part in stirring distrust toward audition programs by resorting to illegitimate methods such as vote rigging, rather than (working to) build a culture of fairness and transparency," it said.
"Produce 101" was the first in Mnet's idol-making "Produce" series that consisted of four seasons. The three following seasons were titled "Produce 101 Season 2," "Produce 48" and "Produce X 101."
Through the four seasons, four high-profile K-pop bands -- I.O.I, Wanna One, IZ*ONE and X1 -- debuted and thrived on the K-pop scene, although only IZ*ONE is currently active.
In 2019, however, the audition show was embroiled in vote-rigging allegations involving the production staff and some talent management agencies that fielded contenders on the show.
Last year, the court ruled that the vote results of all four seasons were rigged and sentenced the show's top producers to prison terms. (Yonhap)