Old X-ray images lifted from satirical tweets about fugitive South Korean entrepreneur's arrest

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Multiple posts on forums and social media have shared X-ray images they falsely claim show a physical cryptocurrency wallet hidden inside fugitive South Korean entrepreneur Do Kwon. The posts claimed the wallet was found inside Kwon after he was arrested in Montenegro in March 2023. The images, however, were used in an article published in a medical journal a decade before Kwon's detention and resurfaced in satirical tweets mocking his arrest.

"Kwon was caught with a crypto wallet implanted near his testicles, which are set to be ripped off," reads Korean-language text below a screenshot shared in a post here on the South Korean forum Bada on April 21, 2023.

South Korean cryptocurrency entrepreneur Do Kwon was arrested in Montenegro in March 2023 over allegations he was carrying fake travel documents (archived link).

He had been on the run for months prior to his arrest, fleeing first from South Korea and then Singapore ahead of the collapse of his company Terraform in May 2022, which wiped out about $40 billion of investors' money and shook global crypto markets.

As of May 18, 2023, South Korea and the United States were both seeking Kwon's extradition for his suspected role in fraud linked to Terraform's crash.

The text below the screenshot goes on to say: "Once he gets (extradited) to the United States, he'll probably be jailed for 10,000 years because he's knowingly carrying evidence with him."

The screenshot is of a Reddit post that shows what appear to be two X-ray images of a person with an object circled near the figure’s groin.

The Reddit post is titled, "Trezor stick found in Terra founder Do Kwon during thorough Body Inspection", and says the purported discovery was made "after his arrest".

A Trezor wallet is a physical device that stores passwords and keys for cryptocurrencies, often used to minimise online exposure (archived link).

Screenshot of the misleading claim on Bada, captured on May 12, 2023

Similar posts were shared on South Korean forums Bobaedream, Ruliweb and Fomos, as well as on Facebook.

Comments on the posts indicated some users were misled.

"He's carrying around evidence that can be used against him inside his own body," wrote one user.

"The Americans will take no pity on his body if they get their hands on him," wrote another.

Unrelated X-ray images

But AFP found the images -- which pre-date Kwon's by a decade -- had been edited.

A reverse image search on Google found similar X-ray images used in an article published by the medical journal "Nutrition & Diabetes" in March 2013 (archived link).

The article is titled, "DXA estimates of fat in abdominal, trunk and hip regions varies by ethnicity in men".

Below is a screenshot comparison of the images shared in the social media posts (left) and the images as they appeared in the March 2013 article (right):

Screenshot comparison of the images shared in the social media posts (left) and the images as they appear in the March 2013 article (right)

The images' caption reads, "Sample DXA scan showing demarcations between body regions generated by enCORE software."

DXA scans are X-ray scans that can provide information on bone density, fat tissue and lean mass (archived link).

The images used in the medical journal do not include any object near the subject's groin, nor are there any red circles to highlight anomalies.

The same article and images were also accessible through other academic databases, such as the National Library of Medicine and Nature.com (archived links here and here).

Crypto wallet claim

In response to the misleading social media posts, Haris Sabotic, the Montenegrin prosecutor for Kwon's case, told AFP on May 16 she "does not have any information" regarding a cryptocurrency wallet found on his person.

Maja Kosovic, the spokeswoman for the Podgorica court trying Kwon's case on alleged document forgery, also told AFP on May 16 the court "has no information related to a 'crypto wallet'," as it was only handling information related to the proceeding.

South Korea's Justice Ministry declined to comment on whether it had received any information about a crypto wallet in relation to Kwon's arrest.

Satirical tweets

AFP found the source of the misinformation was likely taken from satirical posts.

A keyword search on Google found the original Reddit post from April 19 that featured in the Korean-language forum posts here (archived link).

The Reddit post referred to tweets that "apparently have leaked that a Trezor hardware wallet was found inside Do Kwon during the body inspection after his arrest," adding that "the news comes from Reuters, although no link was provided (in the tweets)".

While Reuters has published multiple reports on Kwon since he was detained -- including here and here -- the reports did not mention a physical cryptocurrency wallet found on Kwon at the time of his arrest.

A subsequent search found the apparent source of the Reddit post in a tweet posted by the user "Grinding Poet" on March 26 (archived link).

It reads, "[DB] Trezor stick found in Terra founder Do Kwon during thorough Body Inspection ~ Reuters".

One of the replies to this tweet, from the user "Street Traders", included the X-ray images circulating online alongside the exclamation "LOL".

Replies to the tweets, as well as other tweets from these users, suggested the posts were originally intended as a joke.