Crime in South Korea

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Headquarters of the National Police Agency in South Korea

Crime is present in various forms in South Korea.


Violent crimes (such as homicide, assault and arson) and property crimes (such as theft, fraud and vandalism) make up around four-fifths of all Criminal Code Offences

Although South Korea has a lower crime rate than other countries of comparable economic status,[1] the crime rate in 2007 was around 2.9 times higher than in 1978, with the total number of crimes committed rising from 513,165 to 1,965,577.[2] On occasion, sudden changes in circumstance have led to cause short-term fluctuations in the crime rate – for example, the crime rate rose by 15% following the 1997 Asian financial crisis,[3] and dropped by 21% during the first ten days of the 2002 FIFA World Cup.[4] There is also a problem in the nation with foreign criminals targeting it due to its relatively affluent status and the perception that it has lax security. 1.4 percent of crimes in the nation are committed by foreigners, which is quite low considering the 3.5% of the population is non-Korean.[5][6] According to British criminal Colin Blaney in his autobiography 'Undesirables', the country is targeted by English, Canadian, American and German criminals.[7]

History of Organized Crime[edit]

South Korea has undergone dramatic social, economic and political upheaval since the end of the Korean War in 1953. With these changes crime has increased in recent years and has become a major issue in South Korea. Most of the increase has come in the form of violence and illegal activities connected to organized groups (Lee,2006).

Due to the large police and military presence after the Korean War, the expansion of home-grown organized crime was slowed, almost giving South Korea immunity against international criminal organisations. With no outside conflicts South Korean organized crime has had an advantage to grow, yet because of the location of the Korean peninsula many outside groups from Russia, Japan and China have started to engage in more illegal activities in South Korea (Lee, 2006).

Amid the political confusion of the 1950s, a number of organized gangs emerged and became an influential force in the entertainment districts. Soon these groups began associating with politicians, guarding them from danger and disrupting the political rallies of competing politicians by using organized violence. These particular groups were the so-called “political gangs” or “henchmen” (Lee, 2006)

Organized crime after the War started mainly in the city of Seoul, the capital city of South Korea. Two main gangs formed, the first was known as the “Chong-ro Faction” which was made up of members from southern Korea, and the second was known as the “Myung-dong Faction” whose members where from Pyonyando province. These two gangs claimed dominance over northern Seoul. With the military in control, in the years from 1961 to 1963 13,000 members of these gangs were arrested causing organized gangs to almost completely disappear (Lee, 2006). The 1970s brought an easing of public discipline and control, and opportunities for organized crime emerged again. This saw the emergence of two new groups known as the “Master Sergeant Shin Faction” which was located in the Seoul area and the “Ho-nam Faction” found in the Mugyo-dong area of Seoul. In 1975 there was a violent battle over territories among the two groups which ended with the Ho-nam Faction becoming victorious. The Ho-nam Fraction soon divided into three sub-factions due to internal conflicts. These three factions are now considered the largest organized crime groups in South Korea. They are known as the “Seo-bang Faction,” the “Yang-eun Faction” and the “OB Faction” (Lee, 2006).

Traditional South Korean criminal groups fights rarely resulted in deaths as they fought with their hands, feet and heads. Knives and metal bars only began to show up as weapons in the 1970s. In today’s South Korean society, a person is not to be in possession of guns, swords or knives which may explain why traditional crime groups did not use weapons (Lee, 2006).

Upon the assassination of President Park in 1979 “special measures to uproot social evils” were initiated under the proclaimed martial law which led to a decline in organized criminal violence. But with the a relaxed atmosphere these criminal organizations remerged and flourished yet again (Lee, 2006). With the 1985 Asian Games and the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics global expansion became a possibility and criminal groups took advantage of this opportunity for rapid economic development. Taking advantage of the Korean government's open-door and globalization policies, these crime groups began to from coalitions with their counterparts in Japan, China, Hong Kong and the United States (Lee, 2006).

In 1990 the Korean Government declared a “war on crime” in an effort to crack down on violent and non-violent acts by criminally organized groups. The raids in the fall of 1990 crippled most of the existing criminal groups, but did not destroy them. As one way of better controlling the number of criminal groups, they Korean Government made it illegal to form or join any criminal organization. Statistics from the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office showed that in 1999 there were 11,500 members from 404 organized crimes groups ranging from 10 to 88 members in South Korea (Lee, 2006).

With the trend of economic growth and globalization, organized crime groups in South Korea have become larger in scale and broader in their fields of operations. These international linkages have started to include drug trafficking, financial fraud, weapons smuggling, and human trafficking. Organized transnational crime has become a major concern facing not only Korean government, but also the international community (Lee, 2006).

It is said that most Korean criminal organizations are much smaller than comparable organizations such as the American Mafia, the Japanese Yakuza, or the Hong Kong Triads. Currently in South Korea there are 3 major Organized crime groups: Seven Star Mob, H.S.S. Mob, and Double Dragon. But with that said there has been a huge increase in the number of members of organized crime groups who are arrested. In 1995 the number of arrests was 1,660 and in 2005 the number was 3,200 which is a 93% increase in 10 years(Lee, 2006).


The use of drugs in South Korea is a lesser offense; however, there are still drug related offenses in South Korea. Most of the drug related offenses occur in the Gangnam and Yongsan Districts. In 2013, there were 129 drug related crimes reported in the Gangnam area and 48 drug related crimes reported in the Yongsan area.

A Gangnam District representative said, “drugs are usually distributed through the club network, in Gangnam, foreign students and club operators tend to be involved in the drug trade, a relatively easy way to make money.” [8]

According to the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, there were 7,011 arrests for drug offenses in 2011 which was a 7 percent drop from the previous year. The U.S., by way of comparison, in 2010 made more than 1.6 million drug arrests, more than 36 times Korea’s figure, even after differences in population are accounted for.[8] The drug that is most common is Crystalline Methamphetamine also known as Crystal Meth.

Crystal Meth remains the most commonly used drug,[9] accounting for most drug related arrests. Other drugs that are well known are club drugs such as XTC. These continue to grow in popularity among college students. However, methamphetamine continues to be the drug of choice for Koreans.


In South Korea, murder is an uncommon, but serious, crime. Gangseo District and Yeongdeungpo Districts are the two most well-known areas where murders happen most often. In 2013, there were 21 murder cases in the Gangseo District and 11 murder cases in the Yeongdeungpo District. These two districts are found on the southwest part of the city where it houses many low income citizens and foreign workers.

A Dongguk University Police Administration professor, Kwak Dae-gyung said, “there are many foreign residents that have yet to adapt to Korean society and citizens lower in the economic strata in these areas, there’s trouble in terms of economic competition and a lengthy period of cultural assimilation that leads to people committing violent crimes out of frustration and the need for frequent police action.[8]


South Korea dropped one notch in an international corruption awareness ranking to 46th place among 177 nations in 2013. According to the 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) issued by Transparency International (TI), South Korea scored 55 out of 100. Corruption Perceptions Index .[10] The index shows qualitative assessments of a country's level of corruption in the administrative and public sectors giving a yearly view of the relative degree of corruption by ranking countries from all over the globe. It uses data taken from opinion surveys of experts from each country. The reputation of the country's law enforcement agency has recently been tarnished after a number of ranking government officials, including the head of the state intelligence agency, were indicted for alleged bribery.

Some 86.5 percent of respondents in a Korea Institute of Public Administration survey of small and large companies described corruption among high-ranking public officials as “serious” in 2010, the highest result since the poll began in 2000. Transparency International, a corruption watchdog, gave South Korea a rating of 5.4 in its 2010 corruption perceptions index — midway between highly corrupt and very clean. That ranks South Korea alongside countries and territories such as Botswana, Puerto Rico and Poland but far below many of the developed nations it has sought to emulate.[11]


Prostitution in South Korea is illegal,[12] but according to The Korea Women's Development Institute 여성부 , the sex trade in the country was estimated to amount to 14 trillion South Korean won ($13 billion) in 2007, roughly 1.6 percent of the nation's gross domestic product.[13][14] In 2003, the Korean Institute of Criminology announced that 260,000 women, or 1 of 25 of young Korean women, may be engaged in the sex industry. However, the Korean Feminist Association alleged that from 514,000 to 1.2 million Korean women participate in the prostitution industry.[15] In addition, a similar report by the Institute noted that 20% of men in their 20s pay for sex at least four times a month,[16] with 358,000 visiting prostitutes daily.[17]

The sex trade involved some 94 million transactions in 2007, down from 170 million in 2002. The number of prostitutes dropped by 18 percent to 269,000 during the same period. The amount of money traded for prostitution was over 14 trillion won, compared to than 24 trillion won in 2002.[13] Despite legal sanctions and police crackdowns, prostitution continues to flourish in the country, while sex workers continue to actively resist the state's activities.[18][19]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Peerenboom, Randall (2013). "An empirical overview of rights performance in Asia, France, and the USA". Human Rights in Asia. Routledge. p. 16. ISBN 978-1-134-23881-1. 
  2. ^ Joo, Hee-Jong (2010). "South Korea (Republic of Korea)". In Newman, Graeme R. Crime and Punishment Around the World. ABC-CLIO. p. 212. ISBN 978-0-313-35134-1. 
  3. ^ Mishkin, Frederic S. (2009). The Next Great Globalization. Princeton University Press. p. 97. ISBN 978-1-4008-2944-6. 
  4. ^ "Crime rate tumbles in S. Korea". Times of Malta. June 13, 2002. Archived from the original on July 22, 2013. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Foreign Criminals Increase". Global Post. 25 March 2013.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help);
  7. ^ Blaney, Colin (2014). Undesirables. John Blake. pp. 235–240. ISBN 978-1782198970. 
  8. ^ a b c
  9. ^
  10. ^ Choi, He-suk (December 7, 2012). "South Korea's corruption index falls". Yahoo!. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ "2009 Human Rights Report: Republic of Korea". U.S. Department of State. March 11, 2010. 
  13. ^ a b Sex trade accounts for 1.6% of GDP. KWDI: Korea Women's Development Institute[dead link]
  14. ^ Henheffer, Tom (February 18, 2010). "South Korea takes on prostitution". McLean's. 
  15. ^ "Korea's sex industry is major money earner". JoongAng Ilbo English. 2003-02-06. Retrieved 2009-07-13. 
  16. ^ Korea's crackdown culture David Scofield of the Institute of Peace Studies, Kyung Hee University
  17. ^
  18. ^ "S Korean sex workers rally against police crackdown". AP News. May 17, 2011. 
  19. ^ Ghosh, Palash (April 29, 2013). "South Korea: A Thriving Sex Industry In A Powerful, Wealthy Super-State". International Business Times. Archived from the original on 2013-05-28. 
  20. ^ Lee, Seungmug. "Organized Crime In South Korea." Trends In Organized Crime 9.3 (2006): 61-76. Academic Search Premier. Web. 27 July 2014.