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Former idol’s secret marriage creates stir

April 22, 2011 - 20:03 By 김윤미
Koreans in their 30s used to automatically associate the name “Seo Tai-ji” with “the President of Culture” in the 1990s.

His songs such as “Class Idea,” (1994) “Dreaming Balhae” (1994) and “Come Back Home” (1995) contained controversial yet influential messages to make teenagers rebel against the cramming system of Korean education, hope for reunification of the two Koreas and to urge runaway friends to return home.

Now, a series of news reports exploded overnight; that Seo had secretly married a 19-year-old girl in the United States in 1997; that he divorced her either in 2006 or 2009; and that he is currently mired in a legal suit, filed by a woman seeking 5.5 billion won for divorce settlement and division of property. The woman was revealed to be E Ji-ah currently dating with heartthrob actor Jung Woo-sung.

According to E’s agency KeyEast, the 33-year-old actress who legally changed her name to Kim Ji-ah from Kim Sang-eun following her debut, is engaged in a legal suit against Seo, 39, whose real name is Jeong Hyeon-cheol, asking him to give her 500 million won in a divorce settlement and 5 billion won in division of property.

“E wanted to smoothly close the case but the two could not reach an agreement. As the extinctive prescription of the property division suit was almost due, she filed a lawsuit on Jan. 19,” the agency said in a statement. Under Korean law, a lawsuit to request a divorce settlement should be filed within three years. If the couple divorced in 2009, as E’s agency said, the three-year expiration is drawing near. If the couple divorced in 2006, Seo does not have to give her the money. 
(From left) Seo Tai-ji,E Ji-ah and Jung Woo-sung

“The unconfirmed news reports that they have children are completely groundless and the suit currently in proceeding is not a divorce suit,” it said.

According to KeyEast, E went to the United States in 1993 and met Seo at a concert in Los Angeles, when she was 15 and Seo was 21. With E in the U.S. and Seo, who was busy with his entertainment activities with Seo Tai-ji & Boys, in Korea the two kept in touch through letters and phone calls and developed a relationship. After Seo’s retirement in 1996, they were married 1997. They had rarely met since Seo returned to the K-pop scene in June 2000, E’s agency said. E, who lived alone in the U.S., filed for a divorce suit in 2006 which took effect in 2009, it said. Seo’s unusual job, lifestyle and incompatible personality made her decide to divorce, the agency said.

“Because Seo was a very famous celebrity, E could not disclose her personal story since her debut,” it said.

Seo remained silent with his Seo Taiji Company releasing no statements.

However, Yonhap News reported that an unnamed source said “he was fine and told the source not to worry about him” in an email to the source.

The news report said Seo neither mentioned anything about the latest suit nor revealed where he was.

The 14-year secret between the two was revealed on Thursday as news reports said the Seoul Family Court had held the second trial of their case on April 18.

The two sides have had two trials in March and in April, according to news reports.

Since her 2004 debut in a TV commercial, E’s personal profile has hardly been known to the public, which is why Lee and Seo were able to keep their marriage and the recent suit a secret.

Seo’s marriage was not known to Seo’s close friends, including Yang Hyun-seok, head of YG Entertainment and a former member of Seo Tai & Boys, and singer Kim Jong-seo, who once was in the rock band Sinawe with Seo.

“I’ve been getting so many phone calls today but I didn’t know any of the marriage, divorce. I wish Tai-ji could speak himself as soon as possible, like the way he used to be,” Kim said on his Twitter page.

By Kim Yoon-mi (