Seungri’s 13th case hearing reveals confirmation bias

On March 25, Seungri completed his 13th hearing, and the trial so far has revealed the chilling fact that the Prosecution’s witnesses claimed investigator pressure in giving false testimonies. Worse, during this hearing, one witness claimed she never made a statement against Seungri and that the police wrote up the statement implicating the defendant.

Seungri non-involvement according to witnesses 

Regarding Prostitution Mediation at the 2015 Christmas Party, Witness C testified that she had no knowledge of Seungri’s involvement. She stated, “I got an offer for part-time work (prostitution) from an older sister (madam or senior) that morning and went to the hotel.” She added, “I had no idea the ‘other man’ was related to Seungri.” She told the court that she didn’t know the customer was Japanese. Witness C disclosed, “there was no sex. No one even mentioned Seungri’s name at the time”. 

Later, Witness C countered her own investigation statement committed to paper during police questioning about prostitution offer the next day at a restaurant. She revised the statement, correcting that she never said, “After leaving the restaurant, I was in Seungri’s car for a while.” The witness asserted, “I never said I was in Seungri’s car. The police appeared to have said it was Seungri’s car, and it seems to have been written (by them) in that manner.”

Further, Witness C explained, “I said there was one person among many people and he was a guy who appeared at the restaurant, but Seungri was also there, so it seems like the police wrote (him) to be a part of the ‘defendants group.’”

The Defense lawyer asked for clarification, “did Seungri say anything (to you) in person at the scene?” Witness C answered, “Seungri didn’t provide any instructions, and I never even had any conversation (with Seungri).

Similarly, Witness A, Monkey Museum CEO, testified regarding the embezzlement charge in detail and cleared Seungri of any involvement. He alone took responsibility for decisions and actions taken. He stated, “After the two representatives/CEOs left in February 2018, I was in charge of overall operation”. Witness A requested (permission) of Seungri to revive operations despite the deficit stating, “with the intention of reviving it, so I served as CEO of Monkey Entertainment since June that year.”

On cross-examination, the Defense asked, “How much was Seungri involved in running Monkey Museum?” Witness A certified, “He didn’t come often. He didn’t even come once a month.” He continued, “Monkey Entertainment’s stake was 100 percent on me, and neither Seungri nor Yuri Holdings had any shares in Monkey Entertainment. Seungri didn’t manage it (Monkey Museum).”

Witness B, Yuri holding employee, also testified about the Monkey Museum embezzlement charge. The police theorized that 50 Million Won was misappropriated from Yuri Holdings to establish the Monkey Museum. Witness B previously gave witness statements to the police saying “it was company money”; however, he amended his false statement during the trial. He proclaimed, “it was personal money” when under direct questioning by the Prosecutor.

Witnesses recant testimonies on the stand 

The substantial inconsistency with the Prosecution’s witness testimonies raises severe concerns about the nature of the investigation and the process that led to the indictment of retired K-pop star Seungri of BigBang. The trial has made it apparent that the Prosecution indicted Seungri solely based on false witness statements and no material evidence. 

In analysis, like that of the United States, South Korean laws do not prevent investigators from using deceit and other psychological tactics when interrogating suspects or witnesses. South Korean police are trained to use the Reid method (developed in the USA) for conducting investigations. However, scholars, researchers, lawyers, and criminal justice reform activists have criticized the Reid method to be fundamentally flawed, leading to false confessions, false witness testimony, and wrongful convictions. 

In this particular case, witnesses countered their signed statements and corrected themselves during the hearing. One possible explanation is that the Reid method and other methods slowly break down a person’s emotional stability that leads witnesses to be concerned over their own criminal charges. The investigators let them know that all they need to do is sign on the dotted line and thumbprint. At this point, hours, if not days of questioning, have passed. Under these circumstances, they cannot waste their time reading what is in the statement or if they accurately recalled an event. 

When one witness after another changes testimony in court, correcting their previous false statements (and stating police pressure as a cause in earlier hearings), it is most likely because the witnesses are under oath in the courtroom. They are not in a small room isolated and under psychological adversity. They can think clearly when answering the Prosecution questions. Moreover, the Defense on cross-examination can further dig into their inconsistencies. 

In fact, Seungri’s Defense Lawyer has made it clear that the Defense wants an answer about why these inconsistencies exist. The Judge agrees to explore the matter in upcoming hearings stating, “there could have been coercion or pressure (during police interrogation), but it’s necessary for the court (the Judge, i.e., the fact-finder of the court) to confirm the reversal of statements made according to conscience.”

Blatant confirmation bias by authorities 

Confirmation bias in police investigation explains the fumbled investigation. According to research conducted by Ask and Granhag, police officers often rate disconfirming or exonerating evidence as less reliable or credible and prefer guilt confirming evidence that supports their initial hypotheses. (Karl Ask & Par Anders Granhag, Motivational Bias in Criminal Investigators’ Judgments of Witness Reliability, 37 J. APPLIED SOC. PSYCHOL. 561, 579–80 (2007). 

Indeed, Seungri’s case may demonstrate confirmation bias in action. Investigators under enormous pressure due to the media coverage, public outrage, and celebrity of Seungri must have been highly motivated to close the case quickly and do their jobs by catching the bad guy. When investigators form a hypothesis of guilt early in evaluating evidence, they are likely to fall under confirmation bias.

Once the investigators decided Seungri was a criminal, they investigated everything concerning him, seeking confirmation of their belief. They focused on him as a suspect, selected and filtered evidence, including witness statements that would build a case for a conviction, while ignoring or suppressing evidence, including witness testimonies that pointed away from guilt.

Seungri is facing nine indictments such as: Prostitution (for self); Prostitution Mediation (for others between Dec 2015-Jan 2016); Embezzlement (hiring legal representative fee); Embezzlement (528 million won involving Burning Sun revenues); Violation of Food Sanitation Act (involving Monkey Museum wrongfully registering business); Habitual Gambling (Las Vegas gambling); Distributing Obscene Material/Shooting using camera (single photo of pornographic nature); Violation of the Foreign Exchange Transactions Act (illegal monetary exchange), and Instigating Violence (eliciting assumed gang violence). The ongoing trials are held at the Ground Operations Command’s General Military Court in Yongin-si, Gyeonggi-do.

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