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[Newsmaker] ‘Thanks for saving me’: Suspected child molester’s words could be play for leniency, experts say

Police take Choi Chan-wook from the Dunsan Police Station in Daejeon to the prosecutors office on Thursday. Choi is suspected of having sexually abused underage boys and making and distributing videos of violent sex acts. (Yonhap)
Police take Choi Chan-wook from the Dunsan Police Station in Daejeon to the prosecutors office on Thursday. Choi is suspected of having sexually abused underage boys and making and distributing videos of violent sex acts. (Yonhap)
Choi Chan-wook, 26, who is accused of using boys aged between 11 and 13 to produce videos of sexual exploitation, and in some cases molesting them himself, said he was “grateful that adults saved” him before his actions got worse, stoking public outrage online.

Choi, who stood in front of press cameras Thursday before police turned him over to the prosecution, said, “(I) got here after starting out of curiosity. … I’m grateful that adults saved me before it got worse.”

He appeared unperturbed as he removed his glasses and mask, and said he was sorry to have disappointed his family and fellow realtor friends.

Choi’s nonchalant attitude and words reminded many of Cho Ju-bin, the 25-year-old mastermind behind a massive online sex abuse ring. Cho was sentenced to 42 years in prison early this month, and has appealed to the Supreme Court.

Cho told reporters before he was turned over from police to prosecution in March last year that he was “grateful that (others) stopped his unstoppable life of a devil.”

Korea’s first criminal profiler Pyo Chang-won said in a radio interview on Thursday that Choi’s words “sounded like something we heard before,” referring to Cho.

“The point of disclosing (sex criminals’) personal details is to prevent additional crimes, find out about other crimes (by the suspect) and prevent similar crimes, but criminals like Cho and Choi are a completely different type who use such opportunities to exaggerate or promote their criminal activities,” Pyo said, agreeing that Choi was justifying himself as he spoke.

Koo Ja-ryong, a lawyer, said in an interview with YTN that Choi’s words were “groundwork for leniency.”

A lot of the sex offenders in cases that Koo handled got psychiatric treatment, and submitted materials on their treatment process as reference in sentencing, he said.

“Choi is basically appealing for leniency by saying he has mental problems and can’t control his impulses,” Koo said.

Koo expected the level of criminal punishment on Choi would be close to Cho’s.

Choi was in possession of almost 7,000 videos and photographs of sexual exploitation that he produced, and spread some of them online himself, according to police.

Police have so far confirmed 67 victims in the images, three of whom Choi is suspected of meeting and molesting in person, and suspect that another 290 on Choi’s phone are likely to have been victimized.

By Kim So-hyun (sophie@heraldcorp.com)
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