Threats Highlight Mob Role in Korean Show Business

Kim Tae-chon (right), former boss of a crime syndicate, who was indicted for threatening the actor Kwon Sang-woo. /Yonhap Kim Tae-chon (right), former boss of a crime syndicate, who was indicted for threatening the actor Kwon Sang-woo. /Yonhap

The actor Kwon Sang-woo has fallen victim to some of the darker aspects of the entertainment world in Korea. Kwon reportedly had a spine-chilling call from the former boss of a crime syndicate, Kim Tae-chon, threatening bloody consequences for him and his family if he refused a meeting. He has also been threatened by his former manager, who allegedly has ties with the mob, lest he let someone else manage him.

According to prosecutors, Kim called Kwon in April last year, threatening the actor on the behalf of a Japanese associate who said Kwon had failed to keep his promise to hold an event to meet fans there even though he accepted an expensive watch as a reward. Kim allegedly rang the actor again the next day, threatening him with a personal visit to his home. Asked by Kwon what he was talking about, he threatened to expose everything he knew about Kwon in the media unless Kwon met him to discuss his Japanese friend’s demands, according to prosecutors.

But Kwon refused, saying they could talk on the phone. An irate Kim asked if that meant Kwon did not care if "tragic things" happened to him. Having had similar threatening calls before, Kwon recorded the conversation and handed it to prosecutors, who charged Kim with threatening behavior.

The incident puts the spotlight on the mob's role in the entertainment business. Some gangs, whose heyday was the 1980s, apparently wield influence in big management companies or even set them up. Prosecutors say gangsters and their protégés usually work as managers in entertainment companies or insist on representing stars they got to know as struggling newcomers. They use their inside knowledge of the stars' private life to blackmail them into maintaining the business relationship.

Gangsters have long had a hand in the entertainment world here. The boss Lim Hwa-soo ruled show business since the country's liberation from Japanese colonization in 1945 until he was executed by the military government in 1961 as part of its social purification project. But that did not end ties between the mob and entertainment.

The unsavory partnership reached its peak in the 1980s, when gangsters made a fortune from the record industry and controlled some stars down to their appearances in night clubs and bars. Since 2000, crime syndicates have worked to give their activities a veneer of legality by establishing or investing in entertainment companies.

Prosecutors plans to investigate the cash flow of crime syndicates in case they cooperate with crime organizations in China and Japan that may aim to take advantages of the Korean Wave in Asia.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said it found that a member of a Yakuza gang masquerading as a pastor has taken an interest in the Korean entertainment business. "We have to keep them under constant surveillance and thoroughly investigate the victims," prosecutors added.

englishnews@chosun.com / Feb. 07, 2007 09:43 KST