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Man caught with 20kg of weed in Jeju

June 25,2019
A South African man was indicted on Monday after he attempted to smuggle approximately 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of marijuana into Korea through Jeju International Airport.

According to police, the man, aged 40, was caught by airport customs officials on June 2 with the marijuana, which was wrapped in vinyl inside his suitcase. Prosecutors said the man acquired the drugs in his native South Africa, and after a brief layover in Hong Kong arrived in Korea.

The 20 kilograms of cannabis is worth around 2 billion won ($1.73 million).

This is the largest drug bust at Jeju International Airport, with the seized substances equivalent to around half of the total amount of marijuana confiscated by prosecutors across Korea in 2017, which was around 40 kilograms. Last year, around 30.9 kilograms of marijuana were seized by authorities across the country. A similar marijuana bust occurred last October at Gimhae Airport in South Gyeongsang, where a South African woman was caught trying to bring in 18.28 kilograms of marijuana through her luggage.

Officials believe these recent cases are linked to the fact that the cultivation and private consumption of cannabis was decriminalized in South Africa after a unanimous ruling by the country’s Constitutional Court in September last year. This may have revived attempts by smugglers to sell South African-produced marijuana in Korea, after a series of cases over a decade ago, between 2008 to 2009, when a woman from South Africa was caught four separate times trying to smuggle in marijuana at Incheon International Airport and a fifth time at Gimhae International Airport.

After weeks of investigation, prosecutors said the suspect caught in this month’s bust planned to head to another city within Korea from Jeju to hand off his drugs to a domestic supplier, for which he was to receive around $1,000 in compensation. The Jeju airport was selected as his point of entrance due to a belief that security would be more lax there compared to the international airports at Incheon or Gimhae, prosecutors said.

While they have so far failed to uncover the domestic supply network that the suspect aimed to supply the drugs to, prosecutors say they will continue to conduct investigations into the matter. Customs inspections and searches will also be increased at Jeju airport to prevent illegal drugs from entering the country, prosecutors said.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]