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South Korea Table of Contents

South Korea


During the late 1980s, South Korea experienced a jump in its traditionally low rates of violent crime. A growing number of violent crimes were directed against women, a fact that drew special public concern.

The Korean National Police authorities denied that there was any "organized crime" in South Korea, although police boxes in Seoul in 1990 posted signs encouraging citizens to report any information concerning p'ongnyokpae, violent bands of men armed with knives and improvised weapons who contributed to the rise in violent assaults throughout the city. Although there were some ties between Japan's underworld--the yakuza (Japanese gangsters)--and South Korean criminal groups through ethnic Koreans residing in Japan, yakuza "bosses" did not direct the extension of yakuza activities into South Korea. Nevertheless, the disturbing increase in violent crime and apparent disputes between criminal groups suggested that if organized crime did not yet exist in South Korea in 1989, its precursors were evident.

Historically, narcotics abuse in South Korea had been very low, was confined primarily to marginal urban low-income groups, and did not include either heroin or cocaine abuse (see Health Conditions , ch. 2). In the late 1980s, narcotics abuse remained low but had steadily increased, becoming a social and political issue. In reaction to this increase, enforcement responsibility was transferred from the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs to the Narcotics Division of the Supreme Prosecution Administration under the Ministry of Justice. This action gave narcotics enforcement a higher priority, more staffing, and more funding. (Drug-related arrests had increased from 810 in 1985 to 1,227 in 1987 and to 1,606 in 1988.) Most drug-related criminal activity involved the manufacture or abuse of methamphetamine and South Korea's emergence as a major Asian producer of hirropon, an illicit methamphetamine. A related problem was transshipment of Asian heroin destined for the United States and other world markets.

Data as of June 1990