After six months behind bars awaiting trial, former vocalist of the K-pop group GLAM Kim Dahee and model Lee Ji Yeon have been released from their South Korean prison cells and will not return, thanks to a rather unlikely ally.
Convicted of felony extortion for reportedly attempting to blackmail actor Lee Byung Hun for over $4.5 million with a graphic conversation recorded on a cell phone meant to tarnish his image, Kim and Lee, aged 21 and 25, received a two-year suspended sentence on Thursday.
In addition to their time served, the Seoul Central District Court judge cited the 44-year-old actor's own wish that the two women not face any additional jail time, according to the Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo.
"The victim expressed his wishes for the defendants to be let off the hook and the crime itself had ended before it progressed into something more," the judge said, according to the online Korean entertainment publication allkpop.
"In addition, the defendants also showed that they've been deeply reflecting on their wrongdoing during the six months they were detained. Since they're also both first time offenders and of a young age, we determined that the original sentence was too heavy."
Though Kim Dahee and Lee Ji Yeon will face two-years of probation, they avoid the 12-month and a 14-month prison sentences (respectively) handed down at their last trial. Thursday's verdict was the result of an appeal hearing, the final hope for the two women's freedom.
Not all Lee Byung Hun fans agreed with the court decision.
"The judge was being lenient," wrote allkpop reader Ryen on Thursday.
"This is not grade school where you can get off the hook by writing 'I will not blackmail Lee Byung Hun ever again' 100 times on the blackboard. Blackmail is a criminal offense, but the court decided to be lenient this time after taking into account that one, they are still quite young, two, one of the girls is sick, and three, both girls have to help support their families."
Reader Munchu feels this is another example of a powerful actor getting his way.
"I knew they would get a lighter sentence as soon as Lee Byun Hun started playing [the role of] their savior [to the media] while the prosecution was conveniently pushing for a heavier sentence at the same time," he wrote.
"This guy is so powerful, it's frightening sometimes."
Lee Byung Hun presumably petitioned for his blackmailers' release before leaving the country on March 20. The actor will reportedly be in the US for the next several weeks shooting scenes for the upcoming film "Beyond Deceit" starring Anthony Hopkins and Al Pacino.
The day the actor departed for America, his spokesperson from BH Entertainment told the Korean publication Sports Hankook that while no return date to Korea had been set, he would be back for the birth of his first child with his wife Lee Min Jung, next month.
"The exact date [Lee Byung Hun will return] has not been decided on, but he will be returning to Korea to be there when Lee Min Jung gives birth, which will likely happen by April," the rep said.