Police investigate exploitation case

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Police investigate exploitation case

When Mr. Kim, a 40-year-old blind man, accepted an offer in 2012 from a stranger he met in a soup kitchen in 2012, he never could have imagined that he had just stepped into a trap.

The stranger in question, a 63-year-old man, approached Kim at the free meal center in Yeongdeungpo District, western Seoul, and introduced himself as an employment broker.

Kim was homeless at the time and desperate, and the man’s sales pitch, which promised a well-paying job with free accommodation, sounded like a dream come true.

Kim didn’t realize at the time that he had just been sold for 1 million won ($927) to the owner of a salt pond situated on a small and isolated island near Mokpo, South Jeolla.

There, Kim was not allowed to sleep more than five hours and was forced to work throughout the day.

The owner, 48, surnamed Hong, sometimes beat him, bludgeoning the blind man with a steel pipe if he couldn’t handle the workload.

Miraculously, Kim managed at one point to send a letter to his mother in Seoul last month with the address of the farm attached.

Upon receiving the correspondence, she immediately turned to the police for help, and the authorities were able to trace his whereabouts.

Seo Je-gong, a police officer in the missing persons unit at Guro Police Precinct, headed to the island, where he found Kim and arrested Hong.

But Kim wasn’t the only victim. Hong had also enslaved a 48-year-old mentally challenged man.

The man, identified only by his surname Chae, had been there since 2008, after being tricked by a crooked broker, and had already endured years of hard labor and threats.

Kim testified that he had tried to escape on several occasions, but he failed.

“Sometimes people in the village alerted the owner when I tried to run away,” he said during the investigation.

When caught, Hong threatened him, he said, intimidating him and hurling slurs.

The police said an investigation is ongoing, and they are looking into the allegations that villagers colluded with the owner.

Police are questioning Hong and planning to charge him with exploitation.


BY CHAE SEUNG-GI [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]

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