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South Korea being used as transit hub for smugglers

The use of South Korea as a transit point for international drug trafficking has increased sharply over the past few years, a lawmaker said Tuesday, citing customs data.

Rep. Kim Tae-heum of the People Power Party said a total of 107 kilograms of narcotics bound for overseas destinations had been seized by the Korea Customs Service on six occasions over the past five years. The aggregate value of the drugs seized was nearly 280 billion won ($243.67 million).

For 98.5 percent of the drugs that were confiscated, Korea was not the final destination but a transit point.

The rest -- 4.2 billion won worth of drugs weighing 16 kilograms intercepted in two separate cases last year -- were destined to be exported overseas from Korea.

The aggregate weight of the illegal drugs detected while being moved out of the country is on the rise, having recorded 735 grams in 2016, 8,141 grams in 2018 and 98,504 grams in 2019. The monetary value of the drugs has increased accordingly, from 2.2 billion won in 2016 to 24.4 billion won in 2018 and 251.4 billion won last year.

The number of smuggling cases stood at one in 2016, none in 2017, two in 2018 and three in 2019. No drug exports from Korea have been detected so far this year.

The overall drug trade, including imports, also expanded during the same period, the customs data showed.

The value of drugs seized while being smuggled into or out of the country stood at 86.5 billion won in 2016 and 88 billion won in 2017, but shot up to 654 billion won in 2018 and 629 billion won in 2019. The volume of drugs seized was 50 kilograms in 2016, 361 kilograms in 2018 and 412 kilograms in 2019.

Rep. Kim urged measures to stop the country from being used as a transit hub for international drug smugglers, saying the authorities needed to work to maintain its status as a relatively drug-free nation.

“South Korea just a few years ago was called a drug-free country, but now we are seeing illegal drugs worth billions of won being smuggled overseas,” Kim said in a statement.

“We need to thoroughly block the logistics of illegal drugs traded in and out of South Korea.”

By Ko Jun-tae (
catch table
Korea Herald daum