Disgraced former BIGBANG star Seungri has been convicted of arranging prostitution and other charges stemming from a sex and drugs scandal by a military court.

File photo: Former BIGBANG boyband member Seungri, real name Lee Seung-hyun, speaking to the media as he arrives for police questioning in Seoul on August 28, 2019.
File photo: Former BIGBANG boyband member Seungri, real name Lee Seung-hyun, speaking to the media as he arrives for police questioning in Seoul on August 28, 2019. (AFP)

A South Korean military court has sentenced disgraced K-pop star Seungri to three years in prison for crimes including providing prostitutes to foreign businessmen.

The 30-year-old singer from popular boyband BIGBANG, who retired from show business as the scandal mounted and later enlisted in the military, was found guilty on all nine counts against him, a Defence Ministry official told AFP on Thursday.

He was taken into custody after the ruling by an army court in Yongin, near Seoul.

Yonhap news agency reported that Seungri appeared in court in a combat uniform and shook his head repeatedly as the judge announced the verdict.

The Defense Ministry said he was also fined $989,000 (1.15 billion won).

'Systematic sexual prostitution'

Seungri, whose real name is Lee Seung-hyun, was indicted in January 2020 on multiple charges, including arranging illegal sexual services for business investors from Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong. 

According to the charges he arranged prostitutes for foreign investors on 24 occasions over five months from September 2015.

"It is hard to see the defendant was not aware of financial payments paid to the women for sex," media reports quoted judge Hwang Min-je as saying.

"It appears that he carried out systematic sexual prostitution."

Seungri had changed his testimony under police questioning and in court, he added, and "lacked credibility".

He was also convicted of embezzling funds from a Seoul nightclub he ran and violating laws prohibiting overseas gambling by betting heavily at foreign casinos from 2013 to 2017. 

He denied most of the charges.

According to Min-je, his illegal gambling was "serious" given his status as a celebrity and it went on over a long period.

His case was transferred to a military court after he enlisted in the army in March last year for 21 months of military service, a requirement for most able-bodied men in South Korea because of the threat from rival North Korea.

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YG Entertainment under fire

The investigation into the scandal surrounding him uncovered a spate of allegations against other musicians and personnel at YG Entertainment — Seungri's former agency and one of the biggest K-pop management firms.

It prompted the agency's CEO Yang Hyun-suk to step down, facing probes of his own into illicit gambling.

Seungri was a member of a mobile chat room where K-pop singer-songwriter Jung Joon-young — now serving a five-year sentence for gang rape and other offences — distributed videos of sexual assaults and other encounters.

The revelations rocked the K-pop industry and became the highest-profile crime involving hidden cameras secretly filming women, known as "molka" in South Korea.

Jung appeared as a witness in Seungri's trial and testified he was aware that an adult entertainment manager who Seungri knew had provided the women.

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Fall from grace

Before his fall from grace, Seungri was one of the biggest stars in K-pop because of the success of BIGBANG, which attracted huge followings in Asia and other parts of the world after its debut in 2006. 

Forbes magazine reported in 2016 that the group had made $44 million in pretax earnings the previous year.

Seungri left the group in 2019 after the media reported the prostitution accusations. 

Reaction to the verdict was swift on Thursday, with many users online saying Seungri's punishment was too light for the offences.

"While it is fortunate he is finally being jailed, the term is too short," a user on Naver, the country's largest portal, posted.

Another added: "It should've been 30 years, not three."

The verdict came a month before he was due to be discharged from his mandatory military service.

All able-bodied South Korean men are obliged to fulfil around two years of military service to defend the country from nuclear-armed North Korea, with which it remains technically at war.

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Source: AP