The Burning Sun Scandal: A Timeline of the Allegations, Arrests and Involvement of Several K-Pop Stars
Lee Seung-hyun, known widely as Seungri, was the youngest member of one of K-pop’s most influential boy bands, BIGBANG. Nicknamed “Korea’s Great Gatsby,” he flaunted an extravagant lifestyle. As a businessman, he took on leadership roles in various enterprises ranging from sublabel YGX to a ramen shop to a club called Burning Sun.
The club sets the scene for one of the most complex scandals to hit Korea, one that goes beyond the K-pop world. A few of the industry’s biggest names are involved, but the allegations span sexual assault, prostitution, drug distribution, hidden camera footage, tax evasion and police corruption.
Seungri retired from BIGBANG earlier this month following his booking by Seoul police and charges pertaining to prostitution. The scandal has already implicated singer Jung Joon-young and FTISLAND’s Choi Jonghoon. To a lesser degree, CNBLUE’s Lee Jong Hyun and Highlight’s Yong Junhyung have also been tied to the controversy.
A bulk of the evidence stems from leaked chatrooms from Korean app KakaoTalk. A technician reportedly discovered multiple chats on Jung Joon-young’s phone after the singer sent it in for repairs. But the scandal revolves around a core chat that involved eight members: Seungri, Jung, Choi Jonghoon, Yoo In Suk, Burning Sun employee named Mr. Kim, a relative of a girl group member, a former YG Entertainment employee and a friend of Jung.
These developments have become national news on such a large scale that even South Korean President Moon Jae-in commented on them, stating that "If the truth is not revealed, we cannot say it's a just society."
The crimes echo larger issues facing Korea, such as the country’s ongoing spy cam epidemic. As TRT World’s Joseph Kim put it, “The core of the issue seems to remain in the ongoing abuse of power and the systems that permit it all.”
The story is still developing, but Billboard pieced together all of the major developments related to Burning Sun.
Sept. 23, 2016: In a case that precedes the Burning Sun scandal, Sports Seoul reported that singer Jung Joon-young was investigated by police after being accused of secretly filming a sex act. C9 Entertainment, his agency at the time, released a statement claiming that the charges were canceled, dismissing the situation as a “small misunderstanding.”
Oct. 6, 2016: Jung Joon-young was acquitted in the hidden camera case after a police investigation.
Jan. 28, 2019: This is the starting point of the ongoing news cycle around the current scandal. MBC’s News Desk reported on claims that a man known as “Mr. Kim,” later named Kim Sang-kyo by the Korea Herald, was attacked at Burning Sun, a club where Seungri was on staff as the publicity director.
Jan. 29: Burning Sun released a statement following the news of the assault. The management accused Mr. Kim of attempting to harass women. They also denied that Seungri had been at the club at the time of the incident.
The Seoul Metropolitan Police Department released a statement saying that they will investigate the matter.
Jan. 31: YG Entertainment founder Yang Hyun Suk issued a statement distancing the company from the controversies surrounding Seungri. The label head said, “our artists’ operations of their personal businesses are completely unrelated to YG.” He also claimed that Seungri only resigned as director of the club due to his upcoming military enlistment (which is compulsory for men in Korea).
Seungri posted a letter of apology on Instagram for the Burning Sun controversies. He claimed to have a low level of involvement with the club’s management. As he tells it, he initially joined the club as a DJ, then was promoted to publicity director.
Feb. 4: Burning Sun CEO Lee Moon Ho officially apologized to Seungri and revealed that he fired the club’s director, Jang, who assaulted Mr. Kim. It was also announced that Burning Sun would be shuttered.
Feb. 13: Reports claimed that a woman nicknamed “Anna” was suspected of dealing drugs at Burning Sun. Her selfie with Seungri began to circulate online, prompting the singer to claim he thought he was posing for a photo with a fan.
Feb. 16: Seungri spoke about the Burning Sun controversy at his concert in Seoul, promising to “act more carefully.”
Feb. 26: Korean outlet SBS funE reported on a KakaoTalk group chat from December 2015 where Seungri allegedly planned to bribe investors with prostitutes. The chat reportedly included Singer C, later revealed to be FTISLAND’s Choi Jonghoon, Yuri Holdings CEO Yoo In Suk and an anonymous Burning Sun employee. Seungri reportedly directed the employee to find prostitutes.
The Seoul Police Department launched an investigation into the prostitution claims.
Yuri Holdings denied claims they sought prostitutes to bribe investors.
YG Entertainment -- the “Big 3” K-pop company where Seungri was signed -- released a statement claiming the chatroom messages were “fabricated.” SBS funE’s Kang Kyung-yoon, who reported the story, responded that there would be no reason for her to fabricate the texts.
YG Entertainment’s stock prices fell 4.95 percent in the wake of the controversies.
Feb. 27: Seungri arrived at the police station for questioning and remained there for about eight hours and 30 minutes.
Feb. 28: Seungri canceled all of his upcoming gigs, including his concerts in Osaka and Jakarta.
News outlet Chosun.com reported that trucks from a document-shredding service arrived at YG Entertainment. A YG employee claimed that the shredding process was merely a quarterly routine, and YG founder Yang Hyun Suk later refuted Chosun.com’s report on Instagram.
March 4: The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency said they hadn’t received records of the Burning Sun group chat from the SBS funE reporter. In response, the news broadcaster reported that the whistleblower who discovered the chat bypassed the police. The chat reportedly suggested the members had strong ties to the police force, which then brought police corruption into the multi-pronged scandal. The whistleblower’s lawyer sent the messages to the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission on Feb. 22. Afterward, the chat was sent to SBS funE.
March 6: Kukinews reported that YG founder Yang Hyun Suk and his brother, Yang Min Suk, owned a club called Love Signal. The club was reportedly under suspicion of tax evasion.
March 7: MBC challenged Seungri’s Feb. 2 statement claiming that he was not involved in Burning Sun’s management from the start. The broadcaster dug up documents that suggest he had a big stake in the club’s founding and invested 225 million won (or $198,600) in it. Meanwhile, Yuri Holdings -- where the singer was co-CEO -- owned 20 percent of Burning Sun’s shares.
A YG rep stated that Seungri would enlist in the military on March 25.
March 10: Seungri was booked on charges of supplying prostitutes, and he became a suspect in the case. Three to four more members of the chat were booked.
March 11: SBS funE reported two more singers were in the chatroom. The chatroom members were allegedly sharing hidden camera videos of sexual acts.
SBS’s 8 O’Clock News reported that singer Jung Joon-young shared hidden camera footage in chatrooms with celebrities, with his conversations reportedly dating back to 2015. Ten women were reported to be victims of the non-consensual filming.
Highlight’s Yong Junhyung and his label Around Us Entertainment denied rumors that he was part of the chatroom.
March 12: Jung Joon-young was booked on charges of illegal hidden camera filming. He was removed from the casts of several TV shows, including 2 Days & 1 Night, Salty Tour and 4 Wheeled Restaurant.
SBS funE reported on more snippets of the chatroom that showed the members knew they were involved in illegal activities.
SBS funE’s Kang Kyung-yoon sat down for an interview that traced how her investigation into the hidden camera chatrooms started. Additionally, she denied the involvement of FTISLAND’s Lee Hongki as well as rumors that female celebrities were victims.
FNC Entertainment denied the involvement of CNBLUE’s Lee Jong Hyun and FTISLAND’s Choi Jonghoon.
March 13: Jung Joon-young penned a letter of apology where he confessed his crimes and announced his retirement from the entertainment industry.
“I admit to all my crimes,” he wrote, according to a translation by Soompi. “I filmed women without their consent and shared it in a social media chatroom.”
The lawyer who acted on behalf of the whistleblower told a CBS Radio show that the chatroom suggested ties to the police. A press conference held by the Commissioner General of the Korean National Police Agency confirmed that a chatroom member referenced a police connection.
SBS’s 8 O’Clock News also reported that police corruption let Jung Joon-young off the hook for his illegal filming charges in 2016. An officer allegedly requested the forensics team to claim they couldn’t restore the singer’s phone, which was key evidence.
Although FTISLAND’s Choi Jonghoon admitted to drunk driving in 2016, 8 O’Clock News revealed the chat’s discussions about the guitarist paying for a cover-up of the incident.
MAKEUS Entertainment terminated Jung Joon-young’s contract, while YG Entertainment terminated Seungri’s contract.
March 14: Jung was brought into the police station for questioning, which lasted for 21 hours. He also handed in his phones.
The Commissioner General of the Korean National Police Agency stated they would conduct an internal investigation into police corruption. He also revealed plans for a nationwide investigation into drugs, sexual assault, hidden cameras and corruption.
Yong Junhyung announced his departure from Highlight. He was not part of the main chatroom, but he had knowledge of Jung’s illegal camera footage.
FNC Entertainment announced that Choi Jonghoon left FTISLAND and retired from the entertainment industry.
8 O’Clock News reported on a lewd one-on-one chat between Jung Joon-young and CNBLUE’s Lee Jong Hyun. Lee was not part of the main chatroom.
Sisa Journal reported on a different batch of messages that show Seungri allegedly providing escort services to a business partner.
March 15: Yoo In Suk resigned as CEO of Yuri Holdings.
Seungri completed a second round of questioning.
Additional allegations swirled around the BIGBANG singer: Channel A’s News A reported on a tip received by police that Seungri allegedly sent Korean women to Japan for escort services, an accusation his camp reportedly denied. The outlet also reported that he is suspected of tax evasion.
Dispatch reported that the Seoul Metropolitan Investigation Team raided the homes of Jung Joon-young and Burning Sun’s Mr. Kim -- a member of the 8-person group chat who is different person from the man who was assaulted -- to conduct a search and seizure.
Former FTISLAND member Choi Jonghoon was booked on charges of sharing illegal photos.
MBN revealed more details about the eight members of the Burning Sun chatroom: Seungri, Jung Joon-young, Choi Jonghoon, Yoo In Suk, club employee Mr. Kim, a relative of a girl group member, a former YG employee and a friend of Jung.
March 16: Superintendent “Yoon,” who is suspected of police corruption, admitted that he was acquainted with Yuri Holdings’ Yoo In Suk, one of the members of the chatroom. The superintendent was later booked by the police.
Netizens resurfaced old video clips of CNBLUE’s Lee Jong Hyun allegedly harassing girl group members, along with other accusations. FNC Entertainment denied the claims against Lee. (As of March 23, the CNBLUE member remains at FNC.)
MBN reported that Jung Joon-young had also been part of a separate 2018 investigation into hidden camera footage.
March 17: In an interview with the Kyunghyang Shinmun, Burning Sun CEO Lee Moon Ho, who was not in the main chatroom, brushed off the controversy. “If Seungri’s KakaoTalk messages from three years ago are a crime, aren’t all Korean men criminals?” he said, according to Soompi’s translation. “They were just joking, and it’s not like actual prostitution took place.”
March 18: The Burning Sun case reached a new level of national urgency when South Korean President Moon Jae-in ordered a thorough probe of three cases focused on Burning Sun, late actress Jang Jayeon and former Vice Minister of Ministry of Justice Kim Hak Eui.
The investigation into Jang Jayeon’s sexual abuse case was extended for another two months. The actress died by suicide in 2009, leaving behind a note condemning at least 30 figures tied to the entertainment industry. A Blue House petition seeking to extend the investigation reached 687,767 signatures. Although Jang’s case is not directly related to Burning Sun, the latter prompted increased calls to reinvestigate sexual abuse cases.
After Seungri requested to postpone his military enlistment, Korea’s Military Manpower Administration announced plans to amend the law to prevent people from enlisting to escape “from reality.”
Jung Joon-young completed a second round of questioning.
SBS’s 8 O’Clock News revealed their older phone interview with Choi Jonghoon, in which the former FTISLAND member talked about his ties to Superintendent Yoon, who is suspected of covering up criminal activity.
TV Chosun reported that Seungri is suspected of deleting evidence of police ties on Instagram.
By this point, 40 people have been booked on charges of drug use and distribution. 14 of the suspects were Burning Sun employees.
March 19: The police requested arrest warrants for Jung Joon-young, Burning Sun employee Mr. Kim and Burning Sun director Mr. Jang.
Sisa Journal published an interview with Seungri where he denies allegations of prostitution and gambling.
MBC’s Newsdesk reported that a minor entered Burning Sun in July 2018, and that Burning Sun CEO Lee Sung Hyun paid an officer named Kang to cover up the situation. Additionally, Seungri was accused of knowing about the incident.
SBS’s 8 O’Clock News reported on suspicions of business violations at Seungri’s other club, Monkey Museum.
Traces of BIGBANG and YG Entertainment have been removed from Seungri’s Naver profile. Naver, one of Korea’s biggest search engines, is the second-largest shareholder in YG after investing 100 million won ($88.5 million at the time) in the company in 2017.
TV Chosun reported that police received testimony from a source at Burning Sun that Seungri took drugs. The former BIGBANG member denied these allegations, and a drug test from Feb. 27 came back negative.
An arrest warrant for Burning Sun CEO Lee Moon Ho was rejected.
March 20: Seungri’s military enlistment was postponed.
Korea’s National Tax Service launched a special investigation into YG Entertainment over suspicions of tax evasion.
SBS’s 8 O’Clock News questioned the veracity of Yoo In Suk’s written apology.
March 21: The court announced that Jung Joon-young's arrest. It was revealed that he stands accused of destruction of evidence for resetting one of his three phones, among other charges. He admitted to all charges earlier in the day, and he could receive a sentence of up to seven years and six months.
Choi Jonghoon was booked for bribing an officer. FNC Entertainment terminated his contract.
Seungri’s lawyer denied allegations of his cocaine use.
MBC’s Newsdesk reported that another Burning Sun staffer illegally filmed a sexual assault.
Former officer Kang was forwarded to prosecution on charges of accepting bribes in relation to Burning Sun.
March 23: Chosun Ilbo published a wide-ranging interview with Seungri that covered topics such as his alleged involvement in police corruption, drug allegations and tax evasion.
“I have acted in a way that is unsuitable for a public figure,” he said. “I became tied to wrongful businesses.”
He insisted that he was merely the face of Burning Sun without any further involvement in the management. (A more extensive fan translation was posted on Reddit.)