The alleged leader of a sexual abuse ring run over the messaging app Telegram has been identified by South Korean officials.
Authorities took the unusual step of naming the man accused after a record five million South Koreans signed multiple petitions on the presidential office website asking for his identity to be made public.
Under the nickname “baksa,” which means “doctor” in Korean, Cho Ju-bin allegedly ran an online network that blackmailed 58 women and 16 girls into sharing degrading and sometimes violent sexual digital images of themselves.
Users of the ring paid up to $1,200 in cryptocurrency to view the abusive images, which were allegedly uploaded by the 25-year-old.
The images were posted and viewed in sites known as Nth rooms. According to the news agency Yonhap, police said similar sites are used by more than 260,000 people.
The Korean National Police Agency has arrested 124 suspects in connection with the sexual abuse ring. Cho is one of 18 alleged operators of the ring who have been held in detention since September 2019.
Cho Ju-bin has been charged with violating the child protection act, the privacy act, and the sexual abuse act. He is further accused of abusive and threatening behavior and of coercion.
It is alleged that Cho trapped victims by initially approaching them with offers of part-time work, then paying them for nude photographs. Cho would then allegedly use the threat of exposing a victim’s identity to blackmail her into performing sexual acts on video, including some involving violence.
Some victims were allegedly forced to carve the word “slave” into their bodies as proof that they were owned by Cho.
Speaking from outside a police station in the nation’s capital Seoul on Wednesday, Cho Ju-bin did not confess to any crimes but told reporters that he had been driven to hurt people by forces outside of his control.
“I apologize to those who were hurt by me,” said Cho. “Thank you for ending the life of a demon that I couldn’t stop.”
Min Gap-ryong, the commissioner general of the Korean National Police Agency, said: “Through strict investigation, the police will entirely transform the social apathy to digital sex crime and strongly root out such crime from our society.”