South Korean pop icon Rain is to be disciplined after it emerged he may have flouted military service rules while dating a top actress, the defence ministry said on Thursday.
Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told reporters that the 30-year-old singer would appear before a military disciplinary committee next week.
“However, he is not expected to land in jail,” Kim said.
Rain is a little over halfway through the two-year military service that is mandatory for all able-bodied South Korean men.
He has been serving as an “entertainment soldier” who appears in military-run TV and radio programmes aimed at boosting morale.
South Korea’s well-oiled celebrity gossip machine went into overdrive this week when it was confirmed that Rain had begun dating Kim Tae-hee, a major TV drama star with a massive following in Japan.
Fan excitement over the match-up between two of the country’s most high-profile celebrities was tempered by questions over how the couple had managed numerous dates over the past four weeks.
During their military service, South Korean men are largely confined to their barracks and given little free time.
Tabloid pictures of the couple showed Rain driving a private car in military uniform, contrary to service guidelines, and not wearing his army beret.
The singer failed to wear a beret outside his camp and made “private contact” with the actress three times while returning from official duty, ministry spokesman Kim said.
The singer, whose real name is Jung Ji-hoon, is one of the biggest names in the world of K-pop, which commands a huge following in South Korea, across much of Asia and beyond.
After the tabloid pictures emerged, the ministry’s website was bombarded with messages calling for Rain to be disciplined, with thousands of people signing an online petition urging an investigation.
Some suggested he be forced to repeat his military service like the Gangnam Style star Psy who was made to serve twice after it emerged he had furthered his showbiz interests during his first stint.
Celebrities are frequently caught attempting to evade military service for fear they might be forgotten by their fans while in uniform.
In 2011, popular hip-hop singer MC Mong was given a suspended jail sentence for delaying his conscription into the military on false medical grounds.
The fact that Rain and Kim Tae-hee, 32, were indeed dating was confirmed by Kim’s agency on Tuesday.
“They are currently getting to know each other,” the agency said in a statement.
Kim is best known for her roles in popular Korean dramas such as Iris and Stairway to Heaven, and is in great demand as a brand publicist.
Military service is taken extremely seriously in South Korea, which remains technically at war with North Korea because the 1950-53 Korean war ended with a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty.
Apart from those with physical disabilities, exemptions are rare and anyone refusing to serve – for moral or religious reasons – faces an automatic jail term.
One of the best-known cases of evasion involved Korean-American pop singer Steve Yoo.
In 2002, just as he was about to be called up, Yoo gave up his Korean nationality and became a naturalised US citizen.
The South Korean government considered it an act of desertion and he was deported and banned from returning for life.