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Court charges phishing ring as organized crime group

Nov 01,2017
The Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling on Monday, sentencing the leader of a voice phishing organization to 20 years in jail for organizing a criminal group, marking the first time voice phishers were found guilty of such a charge, as it is usually applied to violent organized crime rings.

The 46-year-old leader, surnamed Park, and other members of the ring were indicted for scamming some 3,000 people out of 5.3 billion won ($4.7 million) by pretending to be employees of a financial institution.

Between September 2014 and December 2015, Park’s ring called people with low credit ratings, promising them they would “raise their credit ratings” and “exchange their high-interest loans for low-interest loans.” After asking them to deposit a service fee into borrowed-name accounts, the scammers cut off contact.

In the first trial, the court sentenced Park to 20 years and fined him 1.95 billion won. It also sentenced 55 out of 78 members for joining an organized crime group to up to 10 years in jail.

After the sentence lengths and fines were slightly adjusted in appeals, the Supreme Court upheld the ruling that found the scammers guilty.

In the past, voice phishers were usually charged for concealing criminal proceeds or violating the Electronic Financial Transactions Act, but never for organizing criminal groups. The penalty for fraud is usually limited to up to 10 years in jail or a fine of up to 20 million won ($17,860), though that can increase depending on the amount of profit gained from the fraud.

On the other hand, the charge of organizing a criminal group is regarded as a serious criminal offense punishable by over four years in jail, life imprisonment or even the death penalty.

Park and his accomplices were charged with organizing a criminal group on the grounds that their organization shared the explicit goal of committing a crime and comprised a hierarchical structure.

“The court’s judgement on this case is not unrelated to the trend of recent criminal organizations assuming the form of corporations,” said a prosecutor. Korean authorities have been trying to charge more criminal organizations with the crime of organizing criminal rings, especially since the Supreme Public Prosecutors’ Office designated organized violent crime and voice phishing as the “top two organized crimes to eradicate” last March.

Last June, massage parlor owners who offered prostitution services in Goyang, Gyeonggi, also became the first in their industry to be charged for organizing a criminal group.

BY YU GIL-YONG [kim.eunjin1@joongang.co.kr]