Drug smuggling on the rise in S Korea

It is worrisome that drugs smuggled into Korea or trafficked through it have been increasing rapidly in recent years. The number of drug-smuggling cases uncovered by the Korea Customs Service rose from 150 in 2009 to 232 last year.

Recent figures from the KCS augmented the perception that the country could no longer be recognised as a place relatively free of narcotics. For the first five months of this year, the agency confiscated 21.7 kg of methamphetamines at local airports and harbours, which exceeded the amount of the banned stimulant seized throughout 2012. Individual attempts to smuggle marijuana and other drugs through international delivery services rose by 37 per cent in number and 600 per cent in value from a year earlier to 48 cases worth 700 million won (US$620,000) in the January-May period.

The sharp rise in detected drug-smuggling cases may result partly from a strengthened crackdown by law enforcement agencies. But it should still put them on higher alert against drug trafficking into or through the country, which is expected to continue to grow in years to come, unless curbed more effectively.

What should particularly be taken note of is a steep increase in the cases of Korea being used as a transit point for international drug trafficking. According to figures from the KCS, the amount of methamphetamines seized by officials here on its way to a third nation jumped from a mere 1 kg in 2009 to 7.8 kg in 2011 and further to 16 kg last year. In May, two Japanese men were arrested at Incheon International Airport for carrying 6.24 kg of the banned stimulant acquired in Macau. They were suspected of planning to take the substance to Japan by boat from Busan.

In recent years, international drug-trafficking rings have regarded Korea as a useful route to deliver narcotics produced in China and some Southeast Asian countries to the US, Japan and Europe. Many ordinary Koreans have also been cajoled or trapped by them into transporting drugs, often being subject to grave punishment in countries where they were caught. The misuse of Korea's reputation as a place relatively immune from narcotics has come to the point that tougher and more effective measures should be implemented urgently and consistently to block the practice. It is certainly not an easy job to uncover drug smuggling by international crime rings, which use increasingly sophisticated and bold methods. But that cannot and should not be an excuse for letting the nation become recognised as a conduit for global narcotics trafficking.

The customs agency should implement as scheduled its plans for installing more advanced detection devices and establishing a unit tasked with collecting and analysing information on drug smuggling. It needs to further strengthen cooperation and coordination with the prosecution, police and other law enforcement agencies at home and abroad to ensure an effective crackdown on drug traffickers.

More efforts should also be made to block individual attempts at smuggling small amounts of illegal stimulants hidden in other items through international mail or other courier services. The Internet makes it increasingly easy to get information on psychoactive substances and purchase them from abroad.

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