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(LEAD) Court issues arrest warrants for members of Telegram sexual abuse ring

National 23:35 May 25, 2020

(ATTN: REWRITES headline, lead; UPDATES with more details throughout)

SEOUL, May 25 (Yonhap) -- A Seoul court on Monday approved warrants to arrest two paid members of a high-profile digital sexual exploitation ring on charges of producing and distributing obscene materials of children and joining a criminal organization.

The two unidentified members of the "Baksabang" chatroom on the messaging service Telegram attended their pretrial detention warrant hearing at the Seoul Central District Court, which began at 10:30 a.m.

The court issued the warrants, citing the possibility of them destroying evidence and the risk of their running away.

They could end up with life imprisonments if convicted of joining a criminal group.

The nation has been shocked by a string of sexual exploitation cases centered on Telegram group chatrooms, including Baksabang. Victims, including underage girls, were blackmailed into providing sexual materials, such as photos and videos, for distribution and sale to paid members of the chatrooms.

Two paid members (wearing both masks and caps) of the "Baksabang" chatroom on the messaging service Telegram leave the Seoul Central District Court on May 25, 2020, after attending their arrest warrant hearing. (Yonhap)

Baksabang founder Cho Ju-bin and a dozen of his co-conspirators have so far been arrested and indicted for allegedly producing and distributing sexual exploitation materials online for profit. But police have yet to determine whether to apply the charge of organizing a criminal group to all of them.

Police said they applied the criminal group charge to the two members because they had allegedly joined Baksabang, though they were aware that the chatroom was operated under a system of shared roles and responsibilities, instead of being run by Cho alone.

Now the court recognized the criminal group charge for the two, it is likely to be applied to Cho and all of his accomplices.

About 60 paid members of Baksabang have been booked on criminal charges, and police plan to additionally request pretrial detention warrants for some of them after conducting further investigations.

Police are also analyzing about 40 digital wallets, through which they suspect Baksabang's members had paid cryptocurrencies to Cho in return for viewing illegally taken photos and videos of violent sex acts.

ycm@yna.co.kr
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