(ATTN: ADDS details on police response in paras 11-13)
SEOUL, March 25 (Yonhap) -- A man suspected of blackmailing dozens of victims, including minors, into performing violent sex acts and selling the videos in mobile chat rooms was handed over to the prosecution on Wednesday for further investigation.
At least 74 people, including 16 underage girls, are known to have been exploited in the case, widely known as the "Nth room case," in which prime suspect Cho Ju-bin allegedly lured victims into taking photos and later coerced them into performing more gruesome sex acts.
The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency sent Cho's case to the prosecution on charges including violation of the act on the protection of children and youth against sex offenses.
The 24-year-old, whose name and photo were released on Tuesday, appeared in front of the public early Wednesday as he was being transferred to the prosecution from a detention unit at Jongno Police Station in central Seoul.
"I genuinely apologize to everyone who has suffered harm because of me, including President Sohn Suk-hee, Mayor Yoon Jang-hyeon and journalist Kim Woong," said Cho, who was wearing a neck protector and a bandage.
It is not yet known why he mentioned the names of the three men. Sohn is a president at South Korean cable broadcaster JTBC and Yoon is a former mayor of the southwestern city of Gwangju. Kim is a freelance journalist undergoing trial for allegedly threatening Sohn.
Police confirmed the three are irrelevant in the sex abuse case, saying they are looking into possibilities they may be victims of separate fraud cases involving Cho.
"Thank you for putting a brake on the life of a devil that could not be stopped," he added. He did not, however, respond to questions on whether he acknowledges the charges and whether he feels remorse for his alleged actions.
Outside the police station, some people shouted at him, telling him to suffer in pain and urging authorities to give him the heaviest legal punishment possible.
Police plan to continue their probe into Cho to identify additional charges and the amount of financial gain he allegedly reaped from the chat rooms. The suspect reportedly operated different rooms, in which he charged as much as 1.5 million won (US$1,213).
The police also launched a special unit to probe digital sex crimes. The new unit will focus on tracking down all those involved in the crime and prevent secondary harm, such as a possible leak of the content shared, National Police agency chief Min Gab-ryong said.
The unit, tentatively set to run until the end of the year, will also strengthen cooperation with overseas law enforcement authorities and technology companies to better identify the perpetrators, according to Min.
Police have so far apprehended 126 in relation to the case. Nineteen, including Cho, have been formally detained.
The scandal has shocked the nation and prompted an outpouring of grief and rage. More than 5 million signed petitions at an online platform run by the presidential office and shared hashtags, urging authorities to disclose all members of the chat rooms and punish them strongly.
An estimated 260,000 people, including overlapping members in different chat rooms, are known to have joined these mobile chat rooms on messaging services, such as Telegram and Discord.
President Moon Jae-in has vowed to take a stern approach in dealing with the sex criminals, as well as combating digital sex crimes, which have evolved in line with developments in technology.
He described the acts of the offenders as "cruel" behavior that destroyed the lives of victims and said he "feels sympathetic" to the "justifiable" public fury over it, his office said Monday.
Relevant government agencies, including the police, justice and gender equality ministries, also pledged an all-out fight against digital sex crimes and promised full support for victims.