Online overseas buys of illegal drugs becoming a big headache for Korea

August 25, 2014

By Jung Min-ho

The ease of online direct purchases has given rise to an increase in illegal drug smuggling in South Korea.

According to the Korea Customs Service Monday, the value of illegal drugs it seized among online transactions in the first half of this year reached 48.6 billion won ($47.5 million). This is 24 times the total for 2013.

“As a growing number of people buy goods from foreign websites directly, the amount of illicit drugs purchased abroad is also increasing quickly,” Rep. Le Man-woo from the governing Sanuri Party said.

Earlier this year, 15 illegal drug-sellers and 77 of their customers were apprehended by police.

According to the National Police Agency, the sellers ran websites, where customers could buy Stilnox, Zopiclone and Xanax without a prescription. They were based in Canada and Thailand.

In March, the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency arrested a man for growing cannabis on his plantation after buying 20 marijuana seeds via an overseas website.

In fact, with a simple Google search for “no prescription marijuana” or “marijuana delivery to South Korea,” anyone can purchase them and get them delivered to with some risk. And that does not exclude minors.

Moreover, there is abundant information about how to grow marijuana on various websites. As some drugs are legal in some countries, such information is generated legally and spread to places where they are not legal.

The amount of illegal drugs delivered to Korea is only expected to increase. Yet the government does not seem to grasp the seriousness of the issue. “To respond to the increasingly serious problem,” it has recently decided to add more sniffer dogs to the current 29 at the airports.

According to customs data, their overseas purchases in 2012 exceeded $1 billion, up 30.1 percent from 2012. For the first six months this year, the amount reached $718.4 million.

As more shipments are delivered to Korea, there should be more people to inspect them at ports and airports. Yet the government is struggling to keep up with the pace.

According to National Assembly Research Service, the average amount of express cargos for one customs officer last year was 145,300, 38 percent up from 104,600 in 2011.

That means less time for each officer to inspect cargos that might contain illegal drugs.

“All the express cargos go through X-ray scanning and 8.2 percent of them are opened for further inspection,” a customs officer said. “One officer deals with 700 cargos everyday on average.”

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