Organized crime in Korea; prevalence and different forms; government response [KOR36330.E]

Citing data from the Korean police, the Korea Herald reported that "the number of crime rings and their total members detected in Korea stood at 183 with 2,229 [members] last year [2000], compared to 173 with 2,319 in 1999 and 98 with 1,705 in 1998" (5 Feb. 2001). The same article writes that crime rings have, until recently, been involved in "peddling of narcotics, gambling, prostitution, liquor wholesale and other entertainment-related businesses by threat of violence" (ibid.). The more recent involvement of crime rings in legitimate activities such as "venture business" and "the private loan and apartment reconstruction business" has caused the Supreme Public Prosecutor's Office to pledge a "full-scale crackdown on such crime syndicates" (ibid.).

In late October 2000, Korea opened its first casino in Chongson, Kangwon Province (Korea Herald 31 Oct. 2000). According to the Korea Herald, organized crime rings were "rushing to conduct illegal business" at the casino and, within a few days of its opening, "seven large crime rings across the nation [had] already visited the casino and some 12 other such organizations [planned] to visit in the near future" (ibid). In response, police dispatched a special investigation team to the area (ibid.). Sources link prostitution and drug trafficking (Yonhap 22 Nov. 2000) and the harassment of pawn shop owners in the vicinity of the casino (KBS 1 TV 12 Dec. 2000) to organized crime. In response, Yonhap reported that a "joint squad of prosecutors and policemen" would be dispatched to the area (22 Nov. 2000).

On 19 December 2000, Yonhap reported that the use of fake passports had "drastically" increased in the Republic of Korea (ROK). The increase was attributed to both the economic recovery of the country as well as the "emergence of organized crime rings which specialize in making and trading of Korean passports in China and Southeast Asia" (ibid.). The immigration office was reported to have established a new department to detect fabricated passports and imported "state of the art" equipment in response to this increase (ibid.).

The International Narcotics Control Strategy Report 2000 states that the ROK has a "moderate drug problem" (2001). The report does not, however, link organized crime to drug trafficking, although several media reports do (Tong-a Ilbo 18 Dec. 2000; Yonhap 29 Feb. 2000; ibid. 22 Nov. 2000; Korea Herald 5 Feb. 2001). Information found on the Website of the Supreme Public Prosecutor's Office states that "quite recently, Korea has been increasingly faced with the serious problem of drug abuse and drug trafficking" (n.d.). Tong-a Ilbo reported that approximately 10 organized crime syndicates were found dealing drugs in the year 2000, and others, "which had steered clear of drug trafficking, [were] taking interest" (18 Dec. 2000).

In response, the Office of the Supreme Public Prosecutor was to set up anti-narcotics divisions in district prosecutors' offices across the ROK and launch a National Drug Control Commission to co-ordinate efforts across departments (Yonhap 29 Feb. 2000). While the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report 2000 mentions the efforts of district prosecutors' offices in anti-narcotics activities (2001), further mention of these initiatives could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. A number of other anti-narcotics initiatives of international scope undertaken by the government are outlined in the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report 2000 (2001). This report also notes that there is no evidence of public official or police involvement in narcotics trafficking (ibid.).

In September 2000, the Korea Herald reported that the Ministry of Finance and Economy was contemplating a new anti-money laundering law which would cover up to 80 criminal offences including "excessive capital flights, bribery, price fixing, insider trading, organized crime activity, tax evasion, operation of illegal casinos, forced prostitution and others" (5 Sept. 2000). According to a 13 February 2001 Changang Ilbo editorial, these laws as well as "the Act on Reporting Specific Financial Transactions and the Act on Regulating Profits From Crimes" had yet to pass in the National Assembly after being tabled in November 2000. More recent information on the status of these Acts could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

On 15 November 2000, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a Convention on Transnational Organized Crime and accompanying protocols on trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants (UN 15 Dec. 2000). The ROK is a signatory to all three instruments (ibid.). Reports of planned government strategy for the ratification of these instruments could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

Please consult KOR36115.E of 9 January 2001 for information on the activities and influence of Chinese organized crime groups in Korea.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Changang Ilbo (Internet Version) [Seoul, in English]. 13 February 2001. "Editorial Urges Passing of Money Laundering Curbs." (FBIS-EAS-2001-0213 14 Feb. 2001/WNC)

International Narcotics Control Strategy Report 2000. 2001. United States Department of State. Washington, DC. [Accessed 5 Apr. 2001]

KBS TV 1 [Seoul, in Korean]. 12 December 2000. "ROK Television Reports on ROK Organized Crime in Kangwon Casino." (FBIS-EAS-2000-1215 12 Dec. 2000/WNC)

The Korea Herald [Seoul]. 5 February 2001. "Prosecution Declares War on Crime Rings." [Accessed 4 Apr. 2001]

_____. 31 October 2000. "Organized Crime Targets First Casino for Koreans." [Accessed 4 Apr. 2001]

_____. 5 September 2000. Cho Young-Sam. "Finance Ministry Proposes 5-Year Penalty for Money Laundering." [Accessed 4 Apr. 2001]

Supreme Public Prosecutor's Office. "Narcotic Control: Overview." [Accessed 4 Apr. 2001]

Tong-a Ilbo (Internet Version) [Seoul, in English]. 18 December 2000. "Illegal Drug Use Said Rising in ROK." (FBIS-EAS-2000-1218 20 Dec. 2000/WNC)

United Nations (UN). 15 December 2000. "More Than 120 Nations Sign New UN Convention on Transnational Organized Crime, as High-Level Meeting Concludes in Palermo." Press Release L/T/4359. [Accessed 5 Apr. 2001]

Yonhap News Agency [Seoul, in English]. 22 November 2000. "Prosecutors to Crack Down on Cyber Terrorists, Organized Crime." (BBC Summary 22 Nov. 2000/NEXIS)

_____. 19 December 2000. "Use of Fake Passports Drastically Increases." (FBIS-CHI-2000-1219 19 Dec. 2000/WNC)

_____. 29 February 2000. "ROK Supreme Public Prosecutor Sets Up Narcotics Department." (FBIS-EAS-2000-0229 1 Mar. 2000/WNC)

Additional Sources Consulted

Crime and Justice International [January 2000-March 2001]

IRB Databases

Jane's Intelligence Review [January 2000-March 2001]

Korea Country File. Resource Centre.

Internet Sites including:

The Asia Foundation

Country Reports 2000

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade

National Criminal Justice Reference Service

National Police Agency

Korea Herald

Organised Crime Registry

Supreme Public Prosecutor's Office, Republic of Korea

United Nations Crime and Justice Information Network

United Nations International Drug Control Programme

United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention

World Factbook of Criminal Justice Systems: South Korea

Search Engines including: