By

Thomas Maresca
Suspect Cho Ju-bin, 24, faces reporters Wednesday while being transferred to the prosecutor's office in Seoul. He is accused of operating chat rooms that shared violent and degrading sex videos he obtained through blackmail and coercion. Photo by Yonhap

Suspect Cho Ju-bin, 24, faces reporters Wednesday while being transferred to the prosecutor’s office in Seoul. He is accused of operating chat rooms that shared violent and degrading sex videos he obtained through blackmail and coercion. Photo by Yonhap
SEOUL, March 25 (UPI) — A man accused of blackmailing girls into sharing sex videos that he sold to viewers online was transferred by police to the prosecutor’s office on Wednesday in a case that’s sparked widespread outrage in South Korea.

Cho Ju-bin, a 24-year-old from Incheon, is accused of being the leader of a criminal operation that exploited at least 74 people, including 16 underage girls, in what has become known as the “Nth room case.”

Cho, who went by the online nickname “The Doctor,” lured girls to send explicit photos of themselves with the promise of jobs and then blackmailed them into creating degrading and abusive sex photos and videos, police said. He shared them in private chat rooms on the Telegram messaging app, with some 10,000 users reportedly paying up to $1,200 in cryptocurrency to access the content.

The Seoul Metropolitan Police sent the case to prosecutors on charges that include violations of the child protection act and the sexual abuse act.

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Cho faced the public on Wednesday in front of a police station in downtown Seoul as he was being transferred to the prosecutor’s office.

“I genuinely apologize to everyone who has suffered harm because of me,” he told reporters, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap. “Thank you for putting a brake on the life of a devil that could not be stopped.”

Cho was named publicly by the Korean National Police Agency on Tuesday, a rare step in a justice system that preserves the anonymity of suspects, after an outcry that included petitions with over 5 million signatures on the presidential Blue House website calling for his identity to revealed and for the identities of users to be made public.

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Min Gap-ryong, chief of the national police, on Tuesday called the crimes “cruel and shocking” and vowed to crack down on the trend of digital sex crimes that’s plagued South Korea.

“Through rigorous investigation, we will completely transform the perception of society that is insensitive to digital sex crimes, and we will strongly remove digital sex crimes from our society,” he said in a statement.

Police have arrested 124 people since September, with 18 in custody including Cho, in an investigation that encompasses a network of chat rooms that involved an estimated 260,000 members.

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The outcry over the case follows mass protests in 2018 against a spycam epidemic in South Korea, in which secret videos taken from public restrooms, changing rooms, subways and buses were widely sold and shared online. Last year’s Burning Sun scandal, in which K-pop stars and other powerful figures were implicated in charges of rape and hidden sex videos, further inflamed public sentiment.

Police set up a special unit to investigate and crack down on sex crimes, Min said Tuesday, and will strengthen cooperation with international law enforcement agencies and technology companies.

Minister of gender equality and family Lee Jung-ok said earlier this week the government is working to revise and strengthen digital sex crimes laws and penalties.