Kim Tae Eun, the chief producer of Mnet’s “Idol School,” has pleaded not guilty on charges of obstruction of business and fraud.

On the morning of November 9, a trial was held at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office on charges of obstruction of business and fraud for Kim Tae Eun and former Mnet business manager “Kim.”

The two are suspected of having manipulated paid votes received from viewers of “Idol School,” which aired from July to September 2017. This suspected manipulation constitutes their charges of interference of business towards CJ ENM and committing of fraud towards those that participated in voting.

Kim Tae Eun’s lawyer admitted to all charges yet pleaded not guilty by stating, “While Kim Tae Eun is regretful of his actions with no intentions of making excuses, his actions do not legally constitute a crime.”

In particular, Kim Tae Eun’s lawyer stressed the basis of pleading not guilty by explaining, “The victim of interference of business is CJ ENM, but they are also the beneficiary of the fraud. It is a strange framework.”

The chief producer’s lawyer further continued, “Votes that came in through text messaging were worth 10 percent of the general results while online votes were given no weight. But because of the low viewership ratings and poor viewer participation rates, the results were subject to lean heavily with just family or acquaintance votes. As less distinctive contestants unexpectedly received higher ranks due to this phenomenon, there was pressure that viewership ratings would further drop and the program would fall to pieces. In turn, the weight of online votes were adjusted to be worth 5 percent without notice to viewers, and rankings were partially manipulated.”

By claiming that “tallying up votes and ranking contestants are a part of the producer’s individual responsibilities and therefore hard to categorize as an interference of business,” Kim Tae Eun’s lawyer further denied the charges. The lawyer added, “It was for the well-being of the firm. In certain cases, an individual may be at fault if acting for the good of a company negatively affects a third party. But in this situation, it seems like an overinterpretation of the charge of obstruction of business.”

As for “Kim,” who was put on trial on the same charges, their lawyer stated, “The indictment is for conspiring with Kim Tae Eun. But since no such conspiracy took place, ‘Kim’ will be pleading not guilty. Even if the charge is acknowledged, only consequences related to being an accessory will be reasonable.”

Suspicions of vote rigging for “Idol School” were raised in July 2019. Investigations have since been carried out on similar programs such as the “Produce 101” series.

Meanwhile, producers Ahn Joon Young and Kim Yong Bum received prison sentences for manipulating the votes of all four seasons of the “Produce 101” series. Ahn Joon Young has appealed his sentence.

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