On August 12, retired BigBang member Seungri’s military trial found him guilty of nine charges and was sentenced to three years in prison. After 25 individual court sessions, the long-awaited final verdict was heard at the Ground Operations Command’s General Military Court in Yongin-si, Gyeonggi-do.
The 26th hearing session was marked by a distinct absence of the Defense lawyer. Seungri was seen at the verdict hearing alone. The atmosphere was tense and he was visibly shaken when the verdict was passed down.
Seungri, Lee Seung Hyun, the subject of a prolonged criminal investigation defended against nine indictments: 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 Co-Principle in Violence (Co-defendant in aggravated assault).
The presiding Military Judge, Colonel Hwang Min Je, accepted the Prosecution’s arguments that the Defendant was guilty of all charges citing the Defendant’s statements as inconsistent. In addition to a 3-year sentencing, he was also fined approximately US$984,000 or KRW1.15 billion and asked to submit personal information.
Furthermore, the Court viewed the inconsistencies between statements from the original investigation and the later court hearings as unreliable. The Judge’s ruling shows he ascribed this unreliability to Seungri.
In particular, the Judge focused his decision on the Prostitution and Prostitution Mediation charges. The Judge stated, “It is difficult to say that the defendant did not know that the price was for prostitution mediation.”
“The Defendant colluded with Yoo In Seok several times to get investors sexual favors and benefited from it. The social harm caused by the defendant’s crimes, including commercialized sex, and breaking morals, isn’t meager.” The Judge took a firm moral stance against prostitution going so far as to state “it was confirmed that the women (sent by Yoo In Seok) showered then put a condom on Seungri and had sex.”
Another significant reason offered by the court included opinion on the charges of gambling. “Celebrity gambling that draws public attention can have a great rippling effect undermining our society’s healthy working consciousness.”
As for embezzlement, the Judge had a more moderate opinion judging on the nature of the crimes as not good. The court commented on the problematic handling of Burning Sun company assets as private property by shareholders. He added that this mishandling of assets was even used to incite assault referring to the revised indictment of Co-Principle to Violence in an aggravated assault.
The Judge also expressed his reasoning in reducing the sentence term from the Prosecution’s recommended five years sentence to three years. He cites mitigating factors of the case that call for a leniency according to South Korea’s sentencing guidelines.
He considered the following points in reducing the sentence to three years: 1) no previous criminal record; 2) for embezzlement, it was the largest shareholder Cheonwon Industry who asked for dividend on operating profits while other shareholders only received it; 3) for aggravated assault, the victim did not consider it a threat and didn’t want to punish him.
The verdict came as a surprise; based on past hearings it had appeared that the Prosecution had not eliminated reasonable doubt. There may have been a gap in media coverage of the trial transcripts and key arguments were not thoroughly reported leading the public to receive incomplete information.
On past hearings
On the basis of past hearings, it seemed apparent that witnesses and evidence presented by the Prosecution supported Seungri’s claims of innocence. Noteworthy, the Prosecution’s witnesses, one after another, testified that Seungri had no involvement, that they had no knowledge of Seungri’s involvement, and identified another person namely, Yoo In Seok, was responsible.
In an unexpected turn of events, several witnesses also claimed investigators had misrepresented their words in written statements. Charges ranging from Prostitution to Embezzlement to Instigating Violence all have no material evidence to support the charge. It appeared that the witness testimonies alone favor Seungri’s innocence creating doubt. The Judge also agreed that the reason for the inconsistencies had to be examined but the closing hearing indicated that he remained confused over several key elements of the case.
On legal tactics and morals
Seungri’s verdict was the result of a well-planned Prosecution strategy. The burden of proof rested upon their side and they utilized every tool to compensate for an overall weak case. The Prosecution carefully built their case from day one, gaining permission to call 30 witnesses.
The Prosecution further created strategic advantage through the common yet questionable practice of charge stacking. This practice allows the Prosecution to gain an upper hand by burdening the Defense with multiple indictments. During the final hearing, they made last minute changes to an indictment, replacing an unfavorable charge with no evidence to another indictment, Co-Principle in Violence.
With the Defense’s attention divided, the prosecution is more likely to achieve convictions. By the time the hearing concluded with closing statements, the Prosecution had introduced 32 witnesses and added a total of 9 indictments, with some added during ongoing trial.
The Defense could not poke holes into the prosecution’s case despite presenting strong arguments. The Defense questioned the credibility of the witness statements used by the Prosecution as grounds to bring indictments, saying that the witness testimonies under oath were considerably different favoring Seungri and pointing out each of the inconsistencies. The Defense argued that these were signs that the criminal charges against the defendant were weak at best and unfounded at worst because charges were leveled based on insufficient/erroneous evidence such as false statements for an indictment.
In South Korea, like in the U.S.A, police authorities can legally use deception during witness interviews or interrogations which can lead to false or inaccurate witness statements. In Seungri’s case, the witnesses who took the stand repeatedly stressed that they felt pressured or were told during investigation that the defendant was involved or responsible. Leading questions and other tactics during investigation may be the cause for the inconsistency of the witness statements. Confirmation bias may have led to the lack of objectivity in the investigation. However, Defense was not able to effectively raise concerns about the weight of the evidence or the objectivity of the investigation.
Ultimately, the court concluded that reasonable doubt did not exist. Furthermore, it placed great importance on moral aspects of the indictments when making the verdict and giving opinions instead of citing specific elements of the indictments. The court transcripts, made public, lack clarification on what criminal elements of the crimes were proven in order to reach the guilty verdicts on each charge.
The verdict is a reflection of the degree and role morality plays in South Korea’s judicial system. South Korea is a very strict society with unbendable moral views on Prostitution and Gambling. Their laws place undue emphasis on punishment for these situations with the philosophy that society cannot be allowed to be corrupted.
The long arm of South Korean law in regards to gambling reaches beyond its national borders. Korean citizens living or studying abroad are often subjected to arrest and prosecution for Gambling in places where it is legal. Students in America and in Canada often return home to be indicted on Gambling. More noteworthy, Prosecution uses Grambling charges to stack upon the charges on individuals they aim to convict. Often businessmen and celebrities are used to make examples to society.
Similarly, Prostitution is considered a sin. In the past years, women’s rights groups and prostitutes fought for the right to choice and legalization of Prostitution without success. In 2011, sex workers took to the streets fighting for their right to work. The South Korean government instead cracked down on Prostitution dismissing them completely. In April 2015, sex workers and activists staged a protest in front of the constitutional court where a hearing was taking place. Approximately 900 sex workers signed and submitted a petition to the government stating they had no right to “use criminal punishment to discourage voluntary sex among adults.”
A women’s right to choose her profession and have control of her body when it comes to the career of sex workers is still highly stigmatized and unaccepted by the general population. The great emphasis the court placed upon “prostitution” can be clear from the Judges opinion and reference to a prostitute placing a condom on the defendant.
Finally, a guilty verdict is surprising in this instance but consistent with South Korea’s conviction rate of 99 percent. The high conviction rate and low acquittal statistics explain the fact that once a case is indicted and goes to court it is more likely to deliver a conviction than an acquittal. In recent years there have been concerns in academic and international legal circles that such a high conviction rate may underscore serious issues with the justice system.
On future legal option: Appeal
In South Korea, both Prosecution and Defense are legally capable of filing appeals. The appeal must be filed within seven days with legal reasoning supporting the request. Seungri can appeal all the guilty verdicts, except illegal monetary exchange which he admitted. He can also choose to appeal one or two specific verdicts he feels were wrong. Furthermore, the defense also has a right to appeal sentencing. For any verdict that the defense accepts, they can still appeal the sentencing terms reducing the length or asking for a suspension of sentence.
An appeal at the court of first instance is examined at a court of second instance. If approved then, the case continues in High Court. If neither side chooses to appeal, then the case is closed.
Sincerely hope he would appeal. Thank you for the precise explanation as always.
Thank you. No matter how painful it is to read, we appreciate you always for writing this so succinctly and in a way that’s easy to understand
Thank you for the explanations. Man this case is weird because I’m not a South Korean people. I hope Seungri and his legal team would fight back but I’m worried he’s too tired abt this. The process might be long and I really consider his health.
Thank you for these detailed informations of the case. I hope more people would reach this to completely understand what’s really going on and to give the most unprejudiced judgement!
A very high conviction rate is really concerning because this shows that the trials done after indictment will seem to be just for show if the court is always leaning to a conviction in the first place. I do hope he appeals and the would be reviewed properly. Shouldn’t it be that he be innocent until proven guilty? And that a conviction should be given only if it is BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT?
Morality as part of a legal process is a strange thing. We do want society to have laws against immoral practices but some things are not that easy to define as morally corrupt. In South Korea sex workers aren’t afforded the right to. Work because their work is judged immoral and therefore illegal. Eye opening to see how laws represent a societies morals and scary to think how subjectivity can determine a legal case.
Thank you for the thorough analysis and legal explanation. Let’s hope Seungri appeals as the verdict seems ti be based on morals and what the judge feels is right for the society and not on evidences and due process. It’s the 21st century and the judicial system should be more vigilant to what is lawful, not what is moral in the judge’s eyes.
Thanks you for the unbiased news.
Law is not and it can’t be made by feelings, personal opinions, dreams, beliefs and/or other sensations . Law is facts, evidences, witnesses. The verdict is not the result of a law application: no facts, no evidences witnesses siding with the accused person even when the prosecutor is the one calling them. Thevlaw says you are innocent of there is even only a doing. Still, the judges decoder that facts and witnesses and deep lack of evidences have not importante, because his/her opinion is what it matters. And of course the pressure etc. the witnesses accused the Police of, have no importante too, just like già human rights. Can we call it justice? I don’t think so. Not in a civil country. And ehst I think? I can’t tell it. I know it, it’s clesr, but I don’t have evidences. Anywsy, thanks Sabah, a honest article by a honest woman.
Thank you for summing it up in context. Painful but necessary to see.
Thank you for this article !
I’m disappointed with this verdict. I’m not surprised. The judge allowed “new” evidence late in the game. A reputable judge would have done that if the evidence was new, strong or compelling. The additional “evidence” was none of those things. This judge was biased.
Seungri’s human rights were violated by police, particularly with duration of interrogations.
The press threw anything and everything they could at him. The judge did not want to address or consider it.
I believe this judge was the opposite of impartial. I’m wondering if he was paid off.
I hope Seungri appeals. He definitely has a case.
I do wonder how much of a three year sentence he would serve.
Thank you for your informative and unbiased article.
Thank you for this! As always it’s very informative.
I know you did well Seungri. We VIP’s are always here for you no matter what. We hope and pray that Seungri will appeal against this cases.. We are fighting with you Seungri🙏💪
Interesting read, given that you were neutral. The reader has no idea who’s side you’re on. Journalism and reporting at it’s finest. Keep it up.