Loan sharks sink teeth into foreign brides at high rate

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Loan sharks sink teeth into foreign brides at high rate

Loan sharks target foreign women seeking to become naturalized citizens of Korea, leaving these women with a mountain of debt because of high interest rates.

In April 2005 a 24-year-old Vietnamese woman married a Korean surnamed Kim, 41, through an international marriage broker and arrived in Korea. The two argued frequently and a year later, in August 2006, she left him and their four-month-old daughter. She was advised from a friend that there was a place that could solve her concerns of deportation, resolve the divorce suit and acquire a Korean residency in one go.

She sought a 48-year-old Vietnamese employee of a law office in southern Seoul who introduced her to loan shark Jeong, 51. In July 2009, she borrowed 30 million won ($26,645) from her with an annual interest rate of 365 percent and procured a false bank statement. According to naturalization laws, to apply for Korean citizenship, applicants must to have a deposit of over 30 million won in the bank. She is still awaiting naturalization.

In areas like Guro and Yeongdeungpo districts in southwestern Seoul with a high concentration of foreigners, loan sharks are appearing to target foreign women, oftentimes Chinese or Vietnamese, separated from their husbands. They loan money at a high annual interest rate of 365 percent, or an interest rate of 1 percent per day, and lend 30 million won.

Many times, travel agencies serve as proxies for naturalization applications, filing divorces and lending money. One travel agency in Daerim-dong, Yeongdeongpo District, promises once the 30 million won deposit is secured, “we will handle filing the divorce, applying for Korean citizenship and tidying up the Chinese birth registry in one package,” and that “an attorney will provide consultation, so there should be no worries.”

Last month, the aforementioned, the loaner Jeong and Vietnamese employee were charged with lending 44 foreign women 4.45 billion won with an interest rate of 365 percent. Prosecutors stated that Jeong, since January 2010, collected 44.5 million won in interest.

By Lee Ji-sang [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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