SEOUL (Reuters) - Police in South Korea questioned two K-pop stars and two other singers resigned on Thursday, as accusations of sex tapes, prostitutes and secret chat about rape rocked the music industry and hit entertainment stocks.
The blame game triggered by accusations against the boyish stars who epitomize an industry that carried South Korean pop culture to the global stage is rooted in concerns the business has neglected morality in its 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, but did not elaborate.
Police have said Lee, a member of the group BIGBANG who is nicknamed South Korea’s “Great Gatsby” for his lavish lifestyle, is suspected of what is known as “sexual bribery”.
On Monday, Lee said he was leaving the entertainment industry to fight the accusations.
Also in trouble is singer and television celebrity Jung Joon-young.
On Wednesday, Jung admitted to having shared videos he took secretly while having sex with women. He appeared at the same police station earlier on Thursday to help police with an investigation into suspicions that 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, the broadcaster SBS said.
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”.
In a statement late on Thursday, FNC Entertainment said singer Choi Jong-hoon would leave the band FT Island after chat messages suggested a police official helped hide the fact that Choi had been caught drunk driving, Yonhap news agency said.
In a message posted on Instagram, Choi apologized, expressed embarrassment and regret, and said he would be ending his entertainment career, but did not address specific accusations.
Industry commentators have taken aim at the business managers, notorious for demanding the toughest 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 for the president to crack down on predatory and corrupt practices exposed by the scandals has drawn 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 been hit.
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.”
YG Entertainment should explain, said Kaori Kuwabara, a 52-year-old Japanese fan of BIGBANG.
“My friends told me that I should stop being a fan of K-pop,” she said while waiting outside the company’s office in Seoul, hoping to demand answers from its officials.
Reporting by Joori Roh and Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Robert Birsel and Clarence Fernandez