Overthrow of Korean ‘drug king’ likely to speed investigation into local drug networks – The Korea Herald | Region & Cash

A South Korean believed to be one of the country’s biggest drug traffickers was deported from Vietnam last week after a three-year international joint operation focused on a major drug smuggling ring based in Southeast Asia.

The 47-year-old suspect, identified only by the surname Kim and known in the underground market by the alias “Sara(salagim)”, is believed to be at the head of a drug ring suspected of supplying illicit substances via Telegram.

Kim is suspected of supplying liquid methamphetamines and synthetic cannabinoids to other South Korean drug smugglers, namely a person named Park, who earned the nickname “Telegram Drug Lord” from his operation in the Philippines, and a North Korean defector surnamed Choi , whose main base was in Cambodia.

Kim, Park and Choi are believed to be the main suppliers of the illegal substances that have been circulating on South Korea’s black market in recent years. Park and Choi have already been arrested.

“It appears that (Kim) was trying to disguise himself as a non-Korean and avoid getting caught. He had dyed his hair blonde and his skin was very tanned,” said Jeon Jae-hong, a National Police Agency officer who led the raid on Kim’s Ho Chi Minh hideout, in a recent media interview.

Kim (centre) sits between Vietnamese police officers in Ho Chi Minh on Sunday before being deported to South Korea. (National Police Agency)

However, the joint action by the Korean and Vietnamese authorities could have ended in a near miss, Jeon explained. When officers searched Kim’s alleged hiding place, the suspect had already moved out, but Vietnamese police were able to track him down to his new home, a luxury apartment in central Ho Chi Minh.

Police found a sword at Kim’s home that they believed was used for his self-defence, but the suspect did not resist arrest, the officer said.

Local sales networks in focus

With Kim’s repatriation to follow that of Choi from Cambodia in April, local police expect to speed up their investigation into the clandestine networks here that handle the sale and delivery of the smuggled substances to local customers. According to police, Kim continued his drug dealing until recently, two years after Park’s group was disbanded following his 2020 arrest.

Kim is currently suspected of providing at least 7 billion won ($5.4 million) and earning at least 7 billion won in illicit earnings from 2019 to 2021.

But that doesn’t include stocks found this year, the NPA’s Jeon said.

Following Kim’s arrest, police are now focusing on who handled the sales to local buyers and how the sales were made. The local network is believed to be extensive and 20 of Kim’s accomplices have been identified so far. More of Kim’s illegal transactions are expected to be uncovered, police officials noted.

Kim’s repatriation last week marked a culmination of years of investigations by the National Police Agency since Kim was caught on their radar in 2018. It was kicked into high gear after being subjected to a red alert from Interpol a year later, which led to extensive cooperation with the Vietnamese police.

Vietnamese authorities provided the information on the suspect, and an investigation in South Korea and the subsequent raid had uncovered links between him and other drug traffickers.

These included the aforementioned Park and the other drug dealer known as Genghis Khan, who used the Messenger app Telegram to distribute the substances. He was caught with 1.6 billion won worth of drugs traced to Kim last year.

The illegal substance Park is distributing was allegedly linked to recent high-profile drug use cases, including Namyang Dairy Product founder’s granddaughter Hwang Ha-na, who was sentenced to 20 months in prison by the Supreme Court in February .

Park, who is currently serving a 60-year sentence in the Philippines for the murder of three Koreans, is said to have distributed drugs worth up to 30 billion won in South Korea once a month.

Arrests and investigations into Korean drug dealers point to a key figure at the top of the distribution network who allegedly made the illegal substances available to Park, Choi and others through his Southeast Asia-based operation. It was later revealed that Park and Kim had met while incarcerated in the Philippine prison in the mid-2010s, and Kim allegedly began supplying him with the drugs after Park broke out of prison.

By Lim Jae-seong and Yoon Min-sik

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