SEOUL (Reuters) — South Korean police took the unusual step of publicly identifying the 24-year-old accused leader of an online sexual blackmail ring after the case led to a national outcry in a country still focused on battling a coronavirus outbreak.
Cho Ju-bin was identified by police as the central suspect in the case after more than 5 million South Koreans signed multiple petitions calling for authorities to release his name.
Cho is accused of organizing an online network that lured at least 74 women, including 16 underage girls, into what authorities have called "virtual enslavement" by blackmailing them into sending increasingly degrading and sometimes violent sexual imagery of themselves.
He is facing charges of violating the child protection act, the privacy act and the sexual abuse act, as well as abuse, threats and coercion, according to police, who have now referred the case to prosecutors.
"I apologize to those who were hurt by me," Cho said as he was led away from a Seoul police station on Wednesday, but did not respond when asked by reporters whether he admitted to the charges.
"Thank you for ending the life of a demon that I couldn't stop," he said.
The case brought new pledges from police to investigate not only the organizers, but also participants of the chat rooms who paid as much as 1.5 million won ($1,210.12) to view the images.
"Through strict investigation, the police will entirely transform the social apathy to digital sex crime and strongly root out such crime from our society," Min Gap-ryong, the commissioner general of the Korean National Police Agency, said on Tuesday.
Min said police will mobilize "all available power" to investigate those who shared the videos of sexual exploitation.
He said police will strengthen cooperation with law enforcement in the United States, the United Kingdom and Interpol, as well as with global IT giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter to track down digital crime on foreign servers.
The National Police Agency told reporters that 124 suspects had been arrested and 18 operators of chat rooms on Telegram and other social media had been detained as a result of investigations into such sexual crimes since last September. Cho is accused of being one of those 18 operators.