Korean ransomed in South Africa

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Korean ransomed in South Africa

A Korean businessman kidnapped in Johannesburg, South Africa, was released Wednesday after being held captive for four days by a local crime ring, the Foreign Ministry here said yesterday. The incident comes less than a month before the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, where thousands of Koreans will travel to cheer on the national team.

According to the ministry, the businessman, surnamed Cho, was kidnapped on May 14 during a business trip to Johannesburg.

Because crime is so rampant in South Africa that law enforcement officials are overwhelmed, the Korean Embassy in Johannesburg worked to obtain closed-caption television footage at the hotel where Cho had been staying and handed it over to local authorities. The ministry said Korea also sent its own police force and officials from Cho’s Korean employer flew to South Africa to negotiate his ransom.

A diplomatic source said the gang took $70,000 from Cho’s company and demanded thousands of dollars more. But the source said that after protracted negotiations, the kidnappers ultimately decided they had little more to gain and released Cho near his hotel.

The Foreign Ministry has warned Koreans of the risks of traveling to South Africa for this year’s World Cup.

According to the ministry figures, there were more than 18,000 murders in South Africa from April 2008 to March 2009, almost 16 times the number of murders in Korea over the same period. There were also more than 180,000 armed robberies in South Africa over that 12-month period, compared to just over 4,800 in Korea.

About 150 members of the Red Devils, the national football team fan club, are expected to fly to South Africa - about a third of the Red Devil contingent that attended the 2006 World Cup in Germany. An additional estimated 2,000 fans will travel on their own. To keep them safe, the Foreign Ministry will set up a temporary consular office in South Africa during the World Cup, which begins on June 11. Korea’s first game is June 12 against Greece in Port Elizabeth.

By Yoo Jee-ho [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]
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