TEMPO.CO, Seoul - South Korean police questioned two K-pop stars on Thursday, March 14, as allegations of sex tapes, prostitutes and secret chat about rape rocked South Korea's music world and hit entertainment stocks.
The allegations against the boyish stars who epitomize an industry that has put South Korean pop culture on the global stage has triggered a blame game with accusations the business has neglected morality in the lust for fame and fortune.
Singer Lee Seung-hyun, 28, better known by the stage name Seungri, is suspected of paying for prostitutes for foreign businessmen to drum up investment in his business.
He denies any wrongdoing and said he would cooperate with a police investigation when he arrived at Seoul's Metropolitan Police Agency.
"I am sorry to the nation and everyone who has been hurt," Lee told reporters. He did not elaborate.
Police have said Lee, a member of the group BIGBANG and nicknamed South Korea's "Great Gatsby" for his lavish lifestyle, is suspected of what is known as "sexual bribery".
Lee said on Monday he was leaving the entertainment industry to fight the accusations.
Another singer and television celebrity, Jung Joon-young, is also in trouble.
Jung admitted on Wednesday to having shared videos he secretly took while having sex with women. He appeared at the same police station earlier on Thursday to help police with an investigation into suspicions he distributed the videos.
Jung's agency, MAKEUS Entertainment, has terminated his contract and he has been barred from leaving the country while police question him.
Lawyers for Jung could not be reached for comment.
Lee and Jung were both members of online chat groups where secret sex tapes were shared, and men joked about drugging and raping women, according to the broadcaster SBS.
A third performer, Yong Jun-hyung, expressed remorse in a post on Instagram about watching a sex video shared by Jung, and making inappropriate comments on it.
"I was stupid," he said, while denying he made or shared any illegal recordings.
Yong's agency, Around US Entertainment, said he would quit the boyband Highlight "to prevent the group's reputation from being damaged".
K-pop had largely escaped scandals as South Korea's anti-sexual harassment #MeToo movement ensnared political, sports, and other figures.
But that's clearly changing.
Walking Time Bomb
Industry commentators have taken aim at the business managers, notorious for demanding the strictest of training regimes and controlling every aspect of young stars' lives.
The focus on finding the winning song and dance formula came at the cost of the performers' "moral education", said entertainment commentator Ha Jae-keun, adding that many companies covered up problems until it was too late.
"If the agencies do not give sufficient care to their stars, including education and stress management, they will end up raising walking time bombs," said another industry commentator, Kim Sung-soo.
The South Korean public is demanding action and selling shares in the industry.
A petition calling on the president to crack down on predatory and corrupt practices the scandals have exposed has gathered more than 200,000 signatures.
Shares of Lee's agency, YG Entertainment, fell more than 20 percent after his sex bribery scandal was first reported on Feb. 26, while shares of other top music companies have also taken hits.
YG said on Wednesday it would terminate Lee's contract at his request. A company source told Reuters the future of BIGBANG as a group had not been decided.
But some fans are already walking away.
"What a scumbag. I am ashamed to say I used to be a BIGBANG fan," said Jenny Eusden, an English teacher in South Korea.
"I just want people to know this is not OK."
Kaori Kuwabara, a 52-year-old Japanese fan of BIGBANG said YG Entertainment should explain.
"My friends told me that I should stop being a fan of K-pop," she said as she waited outside the company's office in Seoul, hoping to put her demand for answers to company officials.