Prosecutors arrest 16 in $6.7M phony casino scam

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Prosecutors arrest 16 in $6.7M phony casino scam

A gang of grifters used phony casinos and the wiles of a female con artist to bilk wealthy Korean men playing golf in China of billions of won in a scam they lifted from movie plots, according to the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office.

Sixteen people were indicted on fraud charges yesterday and another five are still wanted by investigators for allegedly taking 7.7 billion won ($6.7 million) from 26 men between May 2005 and October 2008.

According to prosecutors, the ringleader of the group was a man surnamed Choi, 58, who worked with a woman surnamed Kim, 37, to bait the trap.

In one case in the spring of 2005, Kim allegedly approached a businessman at a local golf club and asked to use his cell phone as a way of making acquaintance.

The two became friends after Kim tailed the man to “accidentally” bump into him in the streets and in restaurants.

Prosecutors said Kim suggested the man travel to China to play golf, and introduced him to Choi, who she said shared his interests.

The businessman didn’t know he was on a list of wealthy potential victims Choi had drawn up from the members of golf clubs and prestigious social clubs, prosecutors said. He agreed to accompany Choi on a tour of Chinese golf courses.

When Choi and the mark arrived in China, prosecutors said Choi had already set up phony casinos inside banquet halls at hotels in Xiamen, Fujian; Haikou, Hainan; and Weihai, Shandong.

The two began to play baccarat and at first the businessman won.

The cheering crowd at the table encouraged him to keep going, telling him he was on the verge of raking in a fortune.

But his luck didn’t hold, and he found himself 300 million won in the hole.

Because the businessman couldn’t leave China without paying off his debts, the baccarat crowd - all Choi’s accomplices, prosecutors said - offered to lend him the money to make good his debt.

The businessmen transferred 300 million won to their accounts once he returned to Korea.

“The ring combined methods they’d seen in a foreign movie, ‘The Sting,’ where the grifters set up phony horse race, and a Korean movie, ‘The High Rollers,’ that shows a scene that a female actress approaches a wealthy businessman at a golf club,” a prosecutor at Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said.

“The majority of the victims didn’t know they’d been defrauded until the investigation began.”

Prosecutors said the investigation is continuing, and Choi is still wanted on fraud charges.

By Kim Mi-ju, Choe Sun-uk []
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