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Politics

K-pop scandal spills into South Korea's political arena

Presidential probe of past affairs enrages opposition

Seungri, a member of South Korean K-pop band Big Bang, arrives for questioning in a sex bribery case at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency on March 14.   © Reuters

SEOUL -- South Korea's opposition parties are criticizing President Moon Jae-in for expanding the investigation of a scandal in the entertainment industry to include a past sex scandal involving a senior official in his predecessor's administration.

The alleged corruption involving a K-pop star has rocked the country, and a public petition has prompted Moon to order a crackdown. But he also called for the re-opening of a sexual bribery case involving a former Justice Ministry official. This sparked an outcry from the Liberal Korea Party, the largest opposition party, which is headed by the former boss of the disgraced official.

The recent drama started when a customer claimed to have been assaulted by employees at the Burning Sun nightclub, an establishment that counts boy group Big Bang's Lee Seung-hyun as a board member. When the customer reported the attack to police, he was instead booked for obstruction of business, he said.

This led to questioning of Lee with regard to an alleged prostitution sting. Lee, known by the stage name Seungri, announced earlier this month that he was leaving show business.

The investigation also shed light on alleged drug dealing at the club, located in Seoul's posh Gangnam district, and the establishment's manager was also questioned. The probe expanded to include police officers who allegedly had golf outings and dinners with the manager.

The revelation of the corrupt ties between the K-pop idol and police touched off a public uproar, and a petition on the presidential office's website demanding a thorough investigation garnered more than 200,000 signatures -- exceeding the threshold compelling the government to respond.

"Without investigating the facts of the incident involving the elite class of society, we cannot say we have a fair society," Moon said Monday when ordering police and prosecutors to launch a fact-finding mission.

But the president's instructions went beyond the K-pop scandal and included the 2009 suicide of actress Jang Ja-yeon, who left a note that she was forced by her agency to provide sexual favors to industry executives. It also targeted the 2013 allegation that a former vice justice minister under the government of former President Park Geun-hye was bribed with sex.

"Civilians without power became victims in these cases," Moon said.

This touched off a furor among lawmakers of the Liberal Korea Party, with one official saying on Tuesday that Moon is "bashing the No. 1 opposition party." Liberal Korea lawmakers reckon Moon is trying to highlight the fact that Hwang Kyo-ahn, the conservative party's chief, was justice minister at the time of the bribery scandal.

The reopening of the Jang suicide is also seen as hardball politics. Executives from conservative media organizations that are critical of the Moon government are suspected of receiving sexual services in the case.

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