Friday, July 15, 2011

The SPO report on 2010 drug crimes in Korea

A few days ago a commenter provided a link to this Chosun Ilbo story:
Foreign Drug Crime in Korea on the Rise

The number of drug-related crimes involving foreigners has jumped more than seven-fold over the past four years.

According to a white paper published by the Supreme Prosecutors' Office on Sunday, a total of 9,732 people were arrested for drug-related crimes in Korea last year, and 858 or 8.8 percent were foreigners, up from 116 in 2006.

A prosecutor said the number of foreign drug criminals dropped after 2005 due to increased crackdowns on illegal immigrants but started to rise again since 2008 "as more foreigners came to the country to find jobs here."

Thais accounted for 48 percent of arrests, followed by Sri Lankans (14.5 percent), Americans (11.2 percent), Chinese (6.1 percent), and Russians (5.9 percent).
The white paper in question looks at all drug crimes in Korea (not just foreign ones) and is published by the Supreme Prosecutors' Office every year. The 300 page report can be downloaded in sections at these links (you don't need to install the software): Pages 1-34, 35-106, 107-232, 233-264, and 265-300.

I wondered if perhaps (perhaps!) the Chosun Ilbo was just focusing on foreign drug crimes because it was an English language article. The answer is no. Here are the titles of several articles about the report:

Financial News: Drug crimes, smuggling by foreigners increase

Asia Today: Drug crimes decrease but foreigners' take a greater share

Financial News(again!): Drug crimes by foreigners increase 9 fold over 4 years

Kookmin Ilbo: Domestic drug crimes decrease, drug crimes by foreigners increase

Seoul Sinmun: For International drug criminals, "Korea is a base for distribution."

Chosun Ilbo (Korean): Drug crimes by foreigners increase 7 fold over 4 years

Other articles, such as those by Yonhap, Money Today, Maeil Gyeongje, and Seoul Gyeongje mentioned the rise in foreign drug crimes in the article's text, but not in the title, while the Law Times did not mention foreigners at all. Here are the total drug arrest statistics (including Koreans and foreigners) for the last ten years:

Each bar is divided by drug types. Orange is cannabis, blue is mayak, or narcotics (opium, its derivatives, or cocaine), and green - making up the vast majority of the arrests - is everything else ('psychotropics,' such as meth, ecstasy, LSD or ketamine). Below is a breakdown of the categories:

What's interesting is that, as the Kookmin Ilbo's title ("Domestic drug crimes decrease, drug crimes by foreigners increase") puts it, the media reported that 2010 Korean drug arrests decreased in relation to 2009 arrests, but that over the last four years foreign drug crimes have risen (by ninefold, as was incorrectly written in the title of the Financial News' second article on the topic in twelve hours).

Both of these statements are true, but would it not make more sense to compare arrests over the same period of time? (Answer: Of course it would, but where's the xenophobia in that?) Drug arrests for both foreigners and Koreans decreased between 2009 and 2010 (something only NoCut News mentioned), while arrests increased for both groups between 2006 and 2010. While the increase in terms of percent was much greater for foreigners, in total number of arrests the increase among Koreans was about twice as much as that of foreigners.

In the section of the SPO white paper titled “Increase in drug crimes by foreigners” (page 33), it states the number of foreigners arrested for drug crimes over the past 10 years:

2001 - 70
2002 – 88
2003 - 86
2004 – 203 (136% increase)
2005 – 162 (20.2% decrease)
2006 – 116 (28.4% decrease, arrestees from 19 countries)
2007 – 298 (157.8% increase, arrestees from 28 countries)
2008 – 928 (211.4% increase, arrestees from 29 countries)
2009 – 890 (4.1% decrease, arrestees from 28 countries)
2010 – 858 (3.6% decrease, arrestees from 31 countries)

According to the white paper, until 1999 most foreign drug crimes were for marijuana, though from 2000 there has been an increasing trend towards the use of psychotropic drugs. In 2010 there was an increase in the smuggling and use of methamphetamine by Thais and Chinese, while with marijuana crimes there was an increase in cases due to Thai and Sri Lankan factory workers, native speaking foreign language instructors from English speaking countries like the U.S. and Canada, and Russian sailors.

By nationality, between 1997 and 2000 most foreign drug crimes were committed by Iranians and Filipinos, while from 2000 crimes by Americans began to see an increase, with Americans ranked first in 2002 by committing 31.8% of drug crimes. From 2003 to 2005, Iranians were ranked first (at 33.7%, 29.1% and 16% by year), but Americans regained the top spot in 2006 at 39.7%, only to be booted from first place in 2007 by the Chinese, who made up 21.1% of arrests. Since 2008, however, the efforts of the previous ‘winners’ have paled in comparison to those of the Thais, who have, over the past three years, come in first by making up 76.6%, 64.9% and 48.8% of drug crimes. (The media tends not to focus on arrests of Thais for drugs, however.)

In other drug-related news, Yonhap reports that in the first half of this year 116 people were arrested for drugs in Gangwon-do, a 63% increase over the 71 people caught during the same period last year. Asia Today reports that the amount of drugs seized by the Korea Customs Service in the first half of this year is 3.4 times higher than the amount seized during the same period last year, with 17.6 kg of drugs being seized in 92 cases, coming from places like Africa, Canada and Panama.

Meanwhile, in North Korea, the Kookmin Ilbo reports that according to sources via radio, in Onseong-gun in Hamgyeongbuk-do even elementary school aged children are becoming addicted to drugs due to opium being substituted for painkillers when they become sick, or because their parents are meth addicts and the children try it as well.

And in the news Wednesday, via Yonhap (and video at YTN), was the sordid tale of a low level gangster in Busan who got two 16 year old girls who worked as doumis at a noraebang hooked on meth. One is a first year high school student and the other a dropout. Starting in March, after three free doses they were addicted and he began charging them, and they paid 1.2 million won for 15 doses totaling 4 grams. While they were high, he and others had group sex with them, leading to a total of 8 men being arrested, including the owner of a motel.

And lastly, in a story that's not quite such a downer, on the 14th police arrested 9 people in Pyeongtaek for cultivating 1580 opium poppies in vegetable gardens (see the photo at the link) or vineyards. The opium poppies were grown with the aim of alleviating arthritis, as police said the grower believed the 'folk belief' that eating the poppies' leaves would help with back pain. The penalties for growing opium poppies are generally a warning for growing less than 50 plants, a suspended sentence for growing 50-100 plants, and a fine for growing more than 100 plants. Seven people, including 71 year old Mr. Lee, were let off with a warning, while two people including 56 year-old Mrs. Kim had their cases forwarded to the prosecutor.

Obviously the penalties for poppy growing are so slight because of the kind of people who grow it. According to the report, 38,554 opium poppy plants were seized last year - down from 113,422 in 2009. It's interesting to look at the arrests for the different drug categories by age. As you can see below, 567 people over the age of 60 were arrested last year for narcotics. I imagine these arrests were not for cocaine, but for growing opium poppies.

As can be seen easily in the graph, narcotics (in blue) are barely present in the age groups under fifty. Also interesting is that 59 people over the age of 60 were arrested for marijuana, while (it's stated elsewhere) 3244 marijuana plants were seized by police last year, down from 12,690 in 2009.( 2009 was an abnormally high year.) I was wondering how the elderly marijuana cultivators or smokers were treated by the police, and this article indicates that a 61 year old man and 3 others arrested for growing marijuana and opium plants in a greenhouse were charged with illegal cultivation, not contravention of the drug control law.

I'm sure I could spend hours delving into that report...


B_Wagner said...

Great post.

The stats on drug arrests and seizures of senior citizens are always interesting. On p. 218 of the 2009 report, the SPO discusses the arrests of elderly Korean growers of marijuana and poppy plants, 223 and 2,268 respectively. Of the combined arrests (2,491), the SPO explains that in 74.7% of cases it has decided not to prosecute since the old folks (70.2% of the arrestees were over 60) are just using the plants as "medicine". That's a surprisingly "enlightened" view (or surprisingly "traditional" view, depending on your take) coming out of the SPO, one wonders if actress Kim Bu Seon will be allowed to smoke marijuana in peace once she's old enough since she's advanced the same "medicinal" arguments, albeit without effect, in the courts.

Even with the leniency toward the seniors, there were quite a few arrests (e.g. 148 arrests for marijuana alone, SPO 2009, p. 134). 2009 seemed to yield a bumper crop of pot and poppies on the peninsula and the number of grammies and grampies busted for partaking were relatively high (well, extremely high if you take the number of foreign English teacher arrests as a comparison).

Mok said...
This comment has been removed by the author.