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Police sent to Manila over murder case

Seoul police dispatched a group of investigators to the Philippines to join a probe into the murder of a Korean for the first time amid growing security concerns for Korean citizens in the country, officials said Monday.

A 57-year-old man surnamed Cho was shot dead by four strangers who broke into his house early Sunday in Malvar, Batangas. The suspects ran away after stealing money and valuables, Manila authorities said.

The Korean National Police Agency said it sent three police officers and one gun expert to the crime scene to help investigate the case.

“As the police investigation is based on national sovereignty, (Seoul) is not directly probing the case, but supporting the scientific investigation with Manila’s permission. We are seeking a cooperative investigation that is almost like a direct probe,” said Kang Sin-myeong, commissioner general of the NPA.

This is the first time that Korean officers are taking part in criminal investigations overseas.

The Philippines investigators are probing whether the case was merely a robbery or related to Cho’s business dealings. The victim was reportedly running his own architecture firm, they said.

Cho is the 11th Korean murder victim in the Philippines this year.

Earlier last month, the police chiefs of the two countries reached an agreement to send English-speaking Korean officers to Manila whenever Koreans became victims of crimes such as murder, kidnapping, robbery or rape.

Public concerns have escalated over the safety of Korean residents and tourists in Philippines as more have become crime targets. A total of 39 Koreans have been murdered in the last four years, according to police data. About 40 percent of Korean murder cases abroad have taken place in the Philippines since 2012.

The Korean authorities suspect that Manila’s lax gun control and insufficient investigation system have contributed to the rise of violent crime amid the state’s sluggish economy.

While the Manila government runs a gun permit system, penalties have rarely been imposed for violating the rule, leaving about 1 billion illegal weapons in circulation across the country. In addition, investigation techniques such as fingerprint analysis or inquiry methods are not yet well developed, posing challenges to finding suspects, they added.

According to the Philippine police, over 885,000 crimes took place in the country in the first half of this year, jumping 46 percent on-year, with violent crimes -- such as murder, rape and robbery -- surging by 37 percent.

As part of efforts to better protect Koreans, the two states set up a “Korean Desk” in Manila in 2012 to deal with Korean-involved criminal cases. One Korean resident officer works with four Filipino officers, officials said.

With one more desk launched in Angeles, Seoul investigators made an agreement with Manila to expand the number of desks in five new regions soon.

The Seoul government also vowed to provide 130 police cars and 142 motorcycles over the next three years to better improve the infrastructure of the Philippines’ police system.

It will also seek to expand the number of surveillance cameras in regions where many Koreans reside or travel.

About 100,000 Koreans live in the Philippines and an average of 1 million Korean tourists visit the country every year.

By Lee Hyun-jeong (rene@heraldcorp.com)
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