Korean sports club busted in China for drugs

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Korean sports club busted in China for drugs

A group of 14 South Koreans was arrested at a southern Chinese airport for attempting to smuggle drugs to Australia, according to the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The arrest follows three Korean men being executed in China in August for drug trafficking, a serious crime in the country.

The Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that a group of 22 members of a Korean baseball club based in China were caught by officials at the Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport on Sunday as they were trying to leave the country. Fourteen members were arrested and the other eight were released.

It is rare for such a large group of Koreans to be arrested simultaneously on drug charges in China or elsewhere overseas.

The apprehended Koreans were on their way to Australia and allegedly had up to 30 kilograms (66 pounds) of methamphetamines on them. Methamphetamines are known in Korea and Japan as philopon.

Under Article 347 of China’s Criminal Law, anyone found guilty of smuggling, trafficking or transporting more than 50 grams of heroin or methamphetamines or other narcotic drugs can face life imprisonment or the death penalty.

According to a ministry official Wednesday, it is suspected that the club’s manager and at least two others organized the smuggling of the drugs to Australia, where they were invited to play a friendly match.

The members hid more than a dozen bags containing the methamphetamines within souvenirs for the team in Australia.

There is a chance that some team members were not aware of the smuggling. The drugs are suspected to have come from a Korean-Australian man who had close relations with the baseball club and had invited the group to Australia.

The trials and sentencing are expected to be monitored closely here. There is a limit to what Korean foreign affairs officials can do to prevent harsh sentencing in China.

“We are in the process of communicating with the related authorities to grasp the circumstances and also have requested an urgent consular meeting [with the arrested Koreans] and will be actively providing consular support needed in the future,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Two Korean men were executed for smuggling around 14.8 kilograms of methamphetamines from North Korea into China in early August. The following day, another Korean man was executed for selling 11.9 kilograms of methamphetamines.

The executions were the first death sentences for Korean citizens carried out by China in a decade and came as a shock here. While the Foreign Ministry was given prior notice of the sentencing, it was not able to prevent Chinese authorities from following through with the executions.

Before that, the last time a Korean was executed in China for a drug-related crime was in September 2001.

That case drew strong public backlash in Korea because of the government’s failure to detect and block the death sentence of a 41-year-old man who was arrested in 1997 in Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang Province, for producing and selling methamphetamines. At that time, the Chinese government informed the Korean Foreign Ministry with just a fax.

Another Korean man was executed in China in 2004 for murdering two people and chopping up their bodies.

Five South Koreans have been executed in China since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1992.

Within the past five years, foreign nationals from other countries, including the United Kingdom, the Philippines, South Africa and Pakistan, have also been executed in China for drug-related crimes.

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]




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