‘Mastermind’ Arrested After Pirate Site ‘Ads’ Were Painted on 630-Yr-Old Palace

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After a five-month police investigation, the alleged 'mastermind' behind a nighttime graffiti attack on the 630-year-old Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul, South Korea, has been arrested. Last December, CCTV footage revealed a figure in black spray-painting the words "free movie" time and again. The damage to the culturally significant building was meant to advertise a pirate video site.

graffiti-palaceIn today’s throwaway society, there can be a tendency to undervalue. Expensive smartphones are carelessly dropped and replaced, while an intermittent fault is seen as an excuse to buy better TV, rather than as a signal to check the batteries first.

Yet, things that have true worth, due to their history and other intangible qualities, are not so easily replaced. Last December, when the city of Seoul, South Korea, got out of bed to nationwide news reports of graffiti being sprayed on the walls of the ancient Gyeongbokgung Palace, it wasn’t difficult to see why people were so upset.

Built in 1395, Still Incredible

Gyeongbokgung dates back to the Joseon dynasty, making it very nearly 630 years old. It’s had a lot of restoration work done over the years, including a rebuild in 1867 after being destroyed 270 years earlier. But as the news report shows, culture and history aren’t valued by everyone.

Images in the media revealed that the graffiti was sprayed in several locations, together almost 150 feet long. The image below shared online represents just a small part of the damage, which sadly increased after a copycat struck the next night.

palace graffiti

The characters in red reportedly say ‘free movie’ and elsewhere the name of an artist and their album was reportedly daubed. Under the blurred-out blue text in the middle, lay something more valuable: a probable motive.


The damage was caused over two days, a Saturday and Sunday night. One suspect handed himself into the police on Monday, a then 17-year-old who said he’d been paid 100,000 won – less than $75.00 – to deface the palace.

While initially citing difficulties in the investigation due to the suspects’ use of Telegram, which is both encrypted and based overseas, several people were already talking to the police.

The 17-year-old and his 16-year-old girlfriend were both detained in December; the latter was present when the damage was taking place on December 16, 2023, but played no active role, reports suggest. A man in his 20s admitted that he caused damage the next evening in what appears to have been a copycat incident.

The teenagers said that they were offered 3 million won, almost $2,200, to spray the web address of an illegal streaming site on the palace. They identified the instigator by his online nickname, ‘Team Leader Lee.’

Man Was Arrested, Escaped, and Arrested Again

On May 25th (some reports cite May 22nd), ‘Team Leader Lee’ – now identified as Mr Kang, the alleged operator of an unnamed illegal streaming site – was arrested and taken to court. From there he was taken to the Cyber Investigation Unit at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency.

He arrived there around 13:50 and for reasons that aren’t being made clear, somehow managed to escape. Police reportedly deployed all of their resources and by 15:40, 30+ year-old Kang was back in custody.

Police say they have evidence to show that Kang offered the money in exchange for promoting his website in graffiti on the sides of the palace. Kang’s also suspected of posting illegal pornography on the site, including the worst kind, according to a police report.

In total, damage caused by the suspects has led to 150,000,000 won ($109,500) in restoration costs, The Korea Times reports. Korea’s Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) says the pair responsible will face a civil lawsuit for damages.

The man in his 20s is currently on trial in a criminal case. Prosecutors are pushing for three years in prison, an indication of how seriously the offense is being taken.

Kang has a warrant out for his arrest and faces a number of charges and potentially many years in prison. Should he be convicted, one of the most valuable commodities of all may prove elusive; it waits for no one and can never be restored, not for any amount of money.


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