Lee Sun Kyun case: South Korea police say 2 women accused of blackmailing late star not in cahoots

The case is more complicated than expected.

Belmont Lay | Michelle Chew | January 06, 2024, 04:56 PM



South Korean actor Lee Sun Kyun, star of the Oscar-winning "Parasite" movie, was found dead inside a car at 10:30am on Dec. 27, 2023.

His body was discovered near Waryong Park in central Seoul.

He was 48.

Mainstream media reports in Korea have indicated that Lee died of an apparent suicide, even though the case is still under investigation.

He leaves behind a wife and two sons.

Reporting of case in Korea

Following his death, multiple allegations and the circumstances surrounding what led to his passing have surfaced in Korea, revealing the case to be highly complicated.

Most of the English language reports have so far focused almost exclusively on the official announcements by the authorities, such as Lee being put under police investigation for using illegal drugs.

But what has intrigued the public were the subsequent revelations that two women were arrested as they were implicated in blackmailing the actor.

Their identities have so far been withheld in Korean mainstream media reports in English as of Dec. 5.

However, multiple articles and videos written or narrated in the Korean language have delved deeper into speculation, going as far as publicly naming the two women involved, and inevitably going public with the more sordid details, mainly understood to be unverified allegations as the case is still ongoing.

These allegations include blackmail, drug use, and even the sexual relations of the younger woman who was arrested.

Here are the latest developments pieced together from various English and Korean sources.

2 women implicated

According to Yonhap, two women were referred to the prosecution on Jan. 5 for further investigation and potential indictment on charges of blackmailing the late actor Lee.

The two women are a 29-year-old bar hostess in Gangnam, and a 28-year-old former actress.

The older woman is allegedly Kim Nam Hee, while the younger woman is allegedly Park So Jung.

Early reports alleged that the women were in cahoots.

It has since been revealed that they were not working together, but that one of them had apparently turned on the other.

"Police have concluded that the two women were not accomplices," a police official said without elaborating, Yonhap reported.

Photos that publicly identify at least one of the women have been circulating in Korea.

Incheon Metropolitan Police Agency discovered the complicated relationship between the two suspects while investigating Lee's claims that the two women had blackmailed him, Korea Herald reported.

It was also initially assumed that he was acquainted with both of them.

It was also alleged that the younger woman was Lee's mistress, but that is not confirmed at this point.

Subsequent reports have suggested that he was at most acquainted only with the older woman.

Details of blackmail

The late actor allegedly frequently visited the premises that Kim the hostess worked at, Korea Herald also reported.

Yonhap, on the other hand, reported that Lee's use of illegal drugs allegedly took place at the home of the hostess.

The Hollywood Reporter has since highlighted that the drugs allegedly taken were marijuana and ketamine, which are frowned upon in South Korea and subjected to punitive punishments.

Lee was under investigation for illegal drug use since October 2023.

On Dec. 28, a day after Lee’s death, South Korean celebrity news outlet Dispatch published a piece about Lee being a victim of blackmail for more than three months.

The blackmailing scheme was supposedly an event that occurred before Lee was investigated for illegal drug use.

Dispatch did not reveal the identity of the blackmailer at that time.

The Hollywood Reporter has since reported that Lee's reputation as a traditional family man came under scrutiny as a result of this case.

S$355,000 believed to have been extorted from Lee

According to mainstream media reports, Kim, the older woman, reportedly got 300 million won (S$304,000) from Lee by saying that a "hacker" had recently found out about their relationship and was threatening to go public.

The hostess claimed she had no knowledge of the identity of the "hacker", but it is understood that the "hacker" was ostensibly the younger woman, Park.

The money was supposedly to pay off the "hacker".

Relationship between the 2 women

Park, the younger woman, has since been reported to not have been acquainted with Lee.

And this is where things get complicated.

Park is believed to have wanted some or all of the 300 million won by threatening the hostess, Kim.

When things did not go as planned, Park supposedly reported Kim to police to have her arrested for drug use.

The former actress also allegedly approached Lee and coerced 50 million won (S$50,600) from him.

However, it was reported that the former actress denied allegations that she was the "hacker" in question.

Lee had apparently confessed to the police that he had given in to their extortion demands.

2 women were close but believed to have fallen out

The conflicting details of the two women's relationship with each other has become a source of speculation, and the complicated nature is something out of a movie plot.

However, police officials have since provided more context.

It has been reported that the two women became friends while serving in prison, and remained very close to the extent that they lived in the same apartment building after their release.

But the younger woman, Park, allegedly turned on the older woman, Kim.

The younger woman has been identified as the informant providing a tip-off on the hostess' alleged drug use.

The tip-off even saw the younger woman submit the older woman's hair sample to the police in October 2023.

Police suspect that the younger woman initially blackmailed the hostess to swindle money from Lee in connection with the drug allegations.

But it is now understood that the younger woman went to the police with a drug tip-off about the older woman after the blackmailing scheme failed.

The younger woman, who had minor roles in two movies produced in 2012 and 2013, had previously been convicted of fraud.

The hostess, with six previous drug convictions, was arrested on Oct. 18, 2023 and is facing fresh drug charges.

It was the hostess' arrest that led to Lee being investigated.

How younger woman got arrested

When news initially broke that Lee had died, Park, the younger woman, was simply identified as "A".

"A" was detained by police while supposedly attempting to evade legal proceedings.

An arrest warrant for her was issued on Dec. 27 — the same day Lee was found dead — on charges of extortion and blackmail.

She already had a pre-arrest warrant issued against her, but she failed to appear in court and did not have an explanation for it.

Law enforcement had to determine her whereabouts and an arrest warrant was executed leading to her being taken into custody.

On Dec. 28, a day after Lee's body was found, a 28-year-old woman appeared in court carrying a child.

via Dispatch

This woman is now understood to be Park.

But at that time, when speculative information was being reported in dribs and drabs, it was much more difficult to ascertain what was going on.

It took until Jan. 2 for controversial but popular YouTube channel Caracula Crime Lab to release three photos of a woman and etch into the public's consciousness that one of the alleged blackmailers was someone named "Park So Jung".

The video did not even censor the woman's face.

Censored version of screenshot from Caracula Crime Lab video

On Jan. 3, it was reported that the woman who appeared in court carrying a child is being accused of child abuse for subjecting the young person to unwanted media attention and the pressures of appearing in court and in public, amidst such a high-profile case.

Caracula Crime Lab video details

In the Caracula YouTube video, several men, supposedly scam victims of Park, were seen in it.

According to the video, Park allegedly scammed multiple men by claiming that she was pregnant and asked for money to support the child.

Police handling of case involving Lee's drug use

Prior to his death, Lee had been questioned three times by police, including for 19 hours over Dec. 23 and 24.

Reports in South Korea suggest Lee's request for the police not to announce his last appearance for questioning was refused.

At that time, media coverage regarding his police interviews was intense, despite the actor reportedly having tested negative for drugs in two tests prior to his passing.

Lee’s lawyer even said a day before the star's body was found that Lee felt “burdened” by appearing in public to discuss the allegations.

His wish was for any future interrogations to be conducted behind closed doors.

Timeline of drug-taking investigation

How the entire scandal came about can be traced back to October 2023.

According to Dispatch, the Incheon Metropolitan Police released a report on Oct. 18 — the day the hostess Kim was arrested — to provide an update of the case's development.

This set the ball rolling.

Thereafter, Kyeonggi Newspaper published an exclusive report on Oct. 19 that hinted at Lee's involvement.

By Oct. 20, it was relatively clear that Lee was involved in investigations, which had repercussions for the star.

Within days, it was reported that the Incheon Metropolitan Police Agency subsequently said it had started an investigation into eight people, one of whom is believed to be Lee, but his identity was still relatively obscured in media reporting.

On Nov. 24, it was reported that Lee's armpit hair sent for forensic testing for traces of drug-taking had come back negative.

Even though this appeared as relatively good news for the late actor, the perception of some of the public was that Lee should not even have been subjected to two tests just to prove his innocence.

But this news was soon overshadowed, as on the same night, KBS News obtained an exclusive recording of a phone call supposedly between Lee and Kim, which diverted attention from the negative drug test result.

This was seen as a hit job on Lee.

Fast forward to Dec. 26, JTBC reported exclusively that Kim allegedly saw Lee consume drugs by inhaling them through his nose using a straw.

JTBC stated that the testimonies provided by Lee and Kim were different: Lee, on the other hand, claimed that he was not aware it was a drug and had assumed it was a sleeping pill.

This round of revelations coincided with news of Lee's request at that time for a lie detector test for both Kim and him, to verify information given by the woman.

But the making public of these testimonies about snorting a substance then led to accusations that details of police investigations were being leaked or simply passed on to the media, and were unfavourable to the late actor as he had already done drug tests that came back negative.

Articles in Korea even questioned the timing of such revelations and their purpose.

But public sentiment was split: There were also those who felt that the Korean media was taking the opposite side of the authorities who were doing their job and carrying out investigations.

Police maintains that the drug probe justified

On Dec. 28, the Incheon Metropolitan Police held a press conference and assured the public that there was no leaking of police investigation information.

Moving forward, it said it would also comply more thoroughly with relevant laws and regulations, such as those pertaining to press affairs guidelines.

Top photos via Parasite, Dispatch, Allkpop