December 19, 2006 08:59
Chinese triads are involved in a kidnap scam in Seoul's affluent Gangnam area, police say. Based on evidence that a bank account used in one of the cases is the same as one used in a tax demand scam, police suspect that Sanhehui or Chinese triads are behind both. The National Intelligence Service earlier warned overseas mobsters are making inroads in Korea.
Police said a man identified as Chung (45) from Samseong-dong, Seoul received phone call on Thursday demanding W10 million (US$1=W927) in ransom for his son. Chung said he did not have that much but paid W5 million into the specified bank account. Some 18 minutes later, the money was withdrawn at a bank branch in Seoul. By then, Chung had established that his son had not in fact been abducted and was fine and immediately asked the bank to suspend the withdrawal, so the hoaxers came away with only W2.8 million. The phone number left on Chung's mobile phone was from China, and the bank account used was held by a Korean.
Investigations revealed that it was one of 27 a Taiwanese tour guide identified as Chang had bought from their Korean owners for W70,000 each. Chang sold the accounts for W400,000 each to three other Taiwanese, who withdrew money at the orders of a Taiwanese who was in China at the time of the incident, police say. The tour guide and a Korean man identified as Kim (40) have been arrested. Police are also questioning three other Taiwanese suspects. Police believe that the man in China hired a Korean speaker to make the call to Chung and have asked Chinese police to cooperate. Police say some 31 such kidnap hoaxes were reported across Korea.
Police are investigating whether triads were involved since the scam resembles another thought to involve the Chinese mafia. In that scam, victims would receive phone calls from China from individuals who identified themselves as National Tax Service and National Health Insurance officials, who would demand victims pay outstanding taxes or insurance contribution into a bank account. That money too was instantly withdrawn from an ATM. Police have arrested four Chinese suspects in the scam. An officer says Taiwan saw a spate of similar cases 10 years ago. "It seems they're now targeting Korea since it's easy to set up bank accounts here and withdrawal limits are high," the officer said.
A report by the NIS submitted to the National Assembly in October says 27 foreign gangs operate here, among them seven Chinese gangs including Fujian Sanchehui. "They're hard to catch as they operate in a highly dispersed way, hide their true identities by using bank accounts set up in the name of others and operate primarily from China," a police officer said.
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