Korea Toughens Laws on Fugitive Suspects

Suspects who escape the country will no longer be able to sit and wait until the statute of limitations on their crimes expires under a revised law that went into effect in May.

The law ensures that the statute of limitations does not expire for suspects who flee overseas during their trials.

According to the Ministry of Justice on Thursday, the law is retroactive and applies to suspects who eloped before the changes went into effect.

As of the end of last year, 340 criminals escaped to another country after being sentenced to prison terms. And the number of people who escape abroad while under investigation or during trial is growing each year.

This trend is the result of a growing number of investigations and trials taking place without detention.

According to the Supreme Public Prosecutors' Office, the number of people who fled overseas during investigation rose almost 60 percent from 364 in 2009 to 577 last year. The number of convicts who escaped to another country after being sentenced to prison rose from 214 in 2009 to 340 last year.

Over the same period, 165 criminals saw the statute of limitations on their offenses expire and walked away.

The favorite destination for such people was the U.S. According to police analysis of the favored hideouts of 3,132 people since 1990, 726 ran away to the U.S. But China, the Philippines, Thailand, Japan, Canada and Vietnam were also favored destinations.

Only one in three escaped suspects was arrested and deported to Korea.

A prosecution official said, "Even if we ban them from leaving the country, they hop on a ship or use forged passports to go abroad or pretend they are sick and need medical care overseas."

The revised law could also apply to Yoo Byung-eon, the fugitive owner of ferry operator Chonghaejin Marine, who has evaded arrest for more than two months in connection with the April 16 ferry disaster and financial crimes.

englishnews@chosun.com / Jul. 11, 2014 11:28 KST