Wednesday, March 18, 2009

'The biggest bust in 15 years'

[Update: The Korea Society has a podcast of a talk by Cullen Thomas here.]

The Marmot's Hole pointed out that National Geographic's Locked Up Abroad did an episode on Cullen Thomas, the American English teacher who was arrested for smuggling hash into Korea from the Philippines in the mid-nineties. The episode can be found here or on Youtube. I haven't read his book, Brother One Cell, but a friend who has told me it was well worth reading, especially if you have any interest in Korean society and culture (an excerpt is here).

What was interesting about the Locked Up Abroad episode is that it tells us that he was arrested on May 27, 1994, so a quick search of the KINDS database ( - it only works in IE) turned up two articles from June 5; one by the Seoul Sinmun, and the other by the Donga Ilbo, titled, "International Mail Drug Smuggling / American Instructor Arrested."

The latter tells us that the Seoul District Prosecutor's Office arrested a 24 year old hagwon instructor named Cullen Francis Thomas*, for smuggling 930 grams of hash (worth 10 million won) via international mail. He had gone to the Philippines in May and mailed the hash from there to 'Platt,' an alias in Seoul, but a search by customs found the hash. The prosecution were investigating to see if he had been involved in distributing the hash. The Seoul Sinmun article also mentions that he had hidden the hash in a sleeping bag (in the mail) and that the previous largest bust for hash was in 1980, and that was for 100 grams.

What's interesting is that the KINDS search (which includes most major papers except the Joongang and Chosun) goes back to 1990, and using search terms like "English instructor," "drugs," and "arrest" turns up no drug arrests - or any arrests - before the Cullen Thomas's.

*Back then everybody who was arrested - not just foreigners - were named in media articles. Does anyone know when this changed? For example, the next drug arrest after Thomas's took place in October 1994, when two American English teachers were arrested for smoking pot with a well known film actor - Ahn Sung-gi's co-star in Chilsu and Mansu, Nowhere to Hide, and Radio Star. Who knew?

For the curious, here's the aforementioned Donga Ilbo article, since you can't link to these things:

국제우편 마약 밀반입/미국인강사 구속
[동아일보] 1994-06-05

서울지검 강력부 신현수검사는 4일 국제우편을 통해 마약의 일종인 「해시시」 9백30g(시가 1천여만원)을 밀반입한 미국인 컬런 프랜시스 토머스(24•학원강사)를 대마관리법 위반혐의로 구속기소했다.검찰에 따르면 토머스는 지난 5월 필리핀에서 해시시 9백30g을 구입,「플래트」라는 가명으로 국제우편을 통해 국내에 몰래 들여온 혐의를 받고 있다
토머스는 세관의 화물검색 과정에서 마약밀반입 사실이 적발돼 검찰에 검거됐다.

검찰은 토머스가 지난해와 올해 네차례나 입국,외국어학원에서 강사로 일해온 점으로 미루어 국내체류 외국인들에게 해시시를 조직적으로 유통시킨 것으로 보고 수사중이다.


nb said...

Bottom line is...don't do drugs in foreign countries. This guy got off easy. Almost a kilo of hash would get you life in a Thai prison. Also, the Koreans don't have an idea that there is a difference in the hardness of weed, hash, coke, or heroin.

Roboseyo said...

"Biggest Bust in 15 Years"

contends with "What a Lovely Big Shiny Purple One My Husband Has" at The Grand Narrative for best possibly naughty post headline in the last month.

Maybe Roboseyo should join the competition.

Unknown said...

Matt, are you trying to protect Park Joonghoon's identity in this post?

White Rice said...

I saw this episode on TV a few months back. Perhaps a bit harsh, but I wondered why/how the US consulate rushed the girlfriend off to safety as if she had no music of her own to face...

matt said...

Damn - I had to re-read my title more than once to get the joke. A little slow today...

I wasn't trying very hard! I wonder what became of that drug charge?

Anonymous said...

I would be careful about using KINDS. There are a number of cases of webscrubbing on Korean news sites.

Lomagirl said...

I heard about this back in 94/95 when I taught in Korea. I have wondered what happened to the guy. I had a great experience teaching there, by the way. (I linked to this from a later article).
I agree with nb, btw. Drugs in a country not your own is just a dumb idea.