Organized crime by foreigners on rise
By Lee Hyo-jin
The National Police Agency (NPA) announced a crackdown Sunday on crimes committed by foreign nationals ― including possible cross-border criminal acts ― that will run from August through October.
Targets of the crackdown will be criminal organizations engaged in loan sharking, drug trafficking and illegal gambling, as well as illegal foreign exchange transactions.
In cases of assault, the NPA will actively cooperate with provincial police agencies to organize special investigation teams, if deemed necessary, in order to uncover the possible involvement of local or international criminal organizations.
The law enforcement authority said it had recently found that a growing number of crimes by foreign nationals ― such as drug-related offenses and the operation of illegal businesses ― were associated with organized crime groups.
From April to June this year, 391 foreign nationals were apprehended, among whom 133 were taken into custody, according to police data. About a third, or 34 percent, of the latter belonged to one of five criminal organizations.
Of them, 46.8 percent were accused of drug-related offenses, followed by those involved in illegally entering the country (18.7 percent), gambling (18.4 percent) and financial crimes (4.9 percent).
By nationality, 17.6 percent of the 391 were from Thailand, followed by Vietnam and Uzbekistan, taking up 14.1 percent each. Approximately 7.7 percent were people from Russia, while another 5.1 percent were Chinese nationals.
The police apprehended 14,977 foreign nationals in the first half of 2021, which was a significant decrease compared with the whole-year figures for the past three years: 34,832 in 2018, 39,249 in 2019 and 39,139 in 2020.
In 2020, the number of foreign nationality residents living in Korea for three months or longer was 1.7 million, out of Korea's total population of 50.1 million.
The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency apprehended 60 members of one criminal organization based in the Philippines on charges of operating illegal sports gambling sites for Korean users, making some 1.3 trillion won ($1.13 billion) of profit.
Twenty-two Thai nationals involved with an organized criminal group, were arrested for allegedly smuggling and distributing methamphetamine from February to March of this year. Two were placed under arrest by proscutors.
Eight Liberians were apprehended for allegedly swindling 21 victims out of a total of 1.15 billion won ($1 million) in romance scams from August 2020 to May of this year. The suspects befriended the victims online under fake identities, such as pretending to be U.S. soldiers or diplomats, and then tricked their victims into sending money to them.
"Organized criminal groups are often led by individuals of the same ethnicity or nationality," an NPA official said in a statement, asking for cooperation from foreign residents to report any such crimes.
The official noted, "In the case of undocumented people of foreign nationality, the immigration authorities will not be informed of their status when reporting crimes to the police."