4 defectors in drug ring are indicted

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4 defectors in drug ring are indicted

Prosecutors yesterday indicted a drug ring comprised of four North Korean defectors on charges that they smuggled methamphetamine worth 1.8 billion won ($1.7 million) into the country. It was the first time authorities busted a drug syndicate made up exclusively of North Korean defectors.

The Ulsan District Prosecutors’ Office said yesterday that they indicted the four suspects with detention for smuggling in methamphetamine they got from two other defectors in Canada, who prosecutors here are now going after with the cooperation of Canadian authorities.

Prosecutors confiscated 600 grams (21 ounces) of the meth from the four suspects.

“We suspect that the meth was first manufactured in North Korea and smuggled into Canada before making its way here [by the suspects], Prosecutor Choi Chang-ho said at a press briefing yesterday.

According to Choi, the four defectors - who came to the South in 2011 over a route through Thailand - trafficked in the drugs earlier this year, hiding the contraband inside a laptop in the space reserved for the computer’s battery. To evade authorities, the suspects used bank accounts with borrowed names.

The prosecution added that the suspects worked as freight-truck drivers in an effort to distribute the drugs inside the country.

“They said [during the questioning] that they thought they would be able to walk away from the authorities if they bribed them, just as they had done in the North,” Choi said.

The drug traffickers acknowledged that the distribution and injection of methamphetamine in the reclusive Communist state has become commonplace, the prosecution said.

The authorities began their investigation into the defector drug ring after they were alerted to the case by a concerned citizen, whose identity was not disclosed.

They confirmed that they are investigating the situation further, analyzing the defectors’ bank accounts and mobile phone records to see if they had smuggled drugs in the past.

North Korea has long been alleged to have transformed into a safe haven for drug producers, with the regime desperately seeking ways to earn foreign currency amid tougher sanctions.

The money-strapped government has been accused of aiding the production and shipment of drugs, smuggling them overseas in exchange for foreign currency, which sustains the regime.

The North, however, strongly denies this charge.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]
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