S. Korean court rejects US request for extradition of operator of world’s largest child pornography site

Posted on : 2020-07-07 16:32 KST Modified on : 2020-07-07 16:32 KST
Judge says suspect should be prosecuted and investigated according to domestic law
Son Jong-woo, operator of the child pornography site Welcome to Video, leaves the Seoul Detention Center on bail after his request for extradition to the US was denied on July 6. (Yonhap News)
Son Jong-woo, operator of the child pornography site Welcome to Video, leaves the Seoul Detention Center on bail after his request for extradition to the US was denied on July 6. (Yonhap News)

On July 6, a South Korean court rejected the US government’s request for the extradition of Son Jong-woo, 24, operator of Welcome to Video, the world’s largest child pornography website. Instead of being extradited to the US, the court said, Son should be investigated by South Korean authorities. Following the court’s decision on Monday, Son was released from jail.

“Son will not be extradited to the US, and I hope that a new paradigm will be established about the crime of child pornography that corresponds to public sentiment about the law,” said Hon. Kang Yeong-su, head of the 20th criminal division of the Seoul High Court, during Son’s third extradition hearing.

“Son, as operator of Welcome to Video, should be taken into custody and investigated further so that we can end the vicious cycle of this crime, in which possessors of child pornography are latent sellers of the same. Extraditing Son to the US could very well disrupt the investigation [into child pornography],” the court said. According to the court, continuing the investigation in Korea instead of sending Son to the US would help prevent and suppress the production of sexually exploitative material in Korea.

The court acknowledged “criticism that Son’s punishment did not actually correspond to the public’s legal sentiment, that his sentence in Korea was too light, and that the judiciary has been deficient in its attitude toward the crime of sexual exploitation of minors.”

As a sovereign country, S. Korea should prosecute its own criminals

“I sympathize with the argument that Son should be sent to the US, where he would receive a harsher legal punishment, so as to serve justice and prevent crime. But as a sovereign country, Korea is capable of [have its judiciary] actively prosecute such crimes,” the court added.

“A national consensus about the crime of sexual exploitation of minors has formed over the course of this investigation and trial, and the investigating authorities and courts need to work actively to move away from their current sentencing practices to enable appropriate laws to be enacted,” the court said.

“This decision certainly does not mean that Son is being absolved of his crimes. I hope that Son will actively cooperate in the investigations and trials to come, as he has promised to do, and that he will receive his due punishment.”

Son was initially released in April after completing his sentence of one year and six months but was taken back into custody after the US government asked for his extradition, arguing that he needed to be investigated on charges of concealing criminal proceeds. During the extradition hearings, Son’s own father accused his son of stashing away the proceeds from the website in a cryptocurrency account he’d set up using his father’s personal information — even while petitioning that his son not be sent to the US.

“I’m grateful to the court for making a wise decision. I will take steps to ensure that [Son] is properly punished without covering for him because of my paternal feelings,” said Son’s father, who observed the hearing on Monday.

A petition was posted to the Blue House website demanding the cancellation of Kang Yeong-su’s nomination to the Supreme Court, which will be decided in September. As of 4 pm, more than 100,000 people had signed the petition.

“For the judge to say that this case can be resolved through investigations and trials in Korea expresses the arrogance of the most privileged of the privileged, a judge who will never have to face sexual exploitation,” the petition said.

By Joh Yun-yeong, staff reporter

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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