Police arrest two suspects over worker exploitation

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Police arrest two suspects over worker exploitation

Authorities have arrested the owners of a pillow factory in Daegu over allegations that they habitually abused a mentally disabled worker and pocketed his wages, estimated to be about 40 million won ($39,080).

The Daegu Metropolitan Police Agency said the owners, identified by their surnames Jang and Yu, are suspected of enslaving a 50-year-old mentally handicapped man surnamed Lee from January 2012 to October 2013, and subjecting him to extreme working conditions at their factory near Seomun Market.

The victim is severely mentally challenged, with the mental capacity of a 7-year-old and an IQ of around 70, officials said. “They treated him like a slave,” added a source from the police. “He barely slept four hours a day.”

According to police, the suspects forced Lee to sell the pillows on the road and abused him when he couldn’t reach the target quota. When he finished his work, he apparently slept on the factory floor without heating, even during the winter. Lee reportedly escaped from the premises in November, after which he lived on the street.

Police were alerted to the case in January after they were told that a homeless man had been seen sleeping on a road near the market.

They added that they had also indicted a man surnamed Seo and his wife for their involvement in exploiting the victim.

A police report stated that Lee had met Jang and his accomplices in May 2011 when he was working at a factory in Buk District, Daegu. Lee had allegedly left his home 12 years earlier and had been living alone since.

After noticing that he was intellectually disabled, Jang, Seo and his wife convinced Lee that they could help him find a Vietnamese wife. They forced him to borrow 9.3 million won from a lender for the purpose of wedding expenses and the arrangement fee. After stealing the money, Seo and his wife handed Lee over to Jang to work at the pillow factory.

Despite the fact that Lee worked at the factory for nearly two years, area residents claimed they never noticed anything unusual. The authorities said they are expanding their probe.

BY KIM YOUN-HO, JO SOO-MIN [enational@joongang.co.kr]

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