Cablegate: 2009-2010 Rok and Dprk International Narcotics

Published: Tue 3 Nov 2009 06:02 AM
DE RUEHUL #1744/01 3070602
P 030602Z NOV 09
E.O. 12958: N/A
REF: STATE 97309
1. (U) Per reftel, Embassy Seoul's submission for the
Republic of Korea (ROK) portion of the 2009-2010
International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) is
provided in para 2. Input for the Democratic People's
Republic of Korea (DPRK) portion of the INCSR is provided in
para 3 with the understanding that information on the DPRK's
narcotics-related activities is very limited.
2. (U) 2009-2010 INCSR input for the ROK:
I. Summary
Narcotics production or abuse is not a major problem in the
Republic of Korea (ROK). Reports continue to
indicate, however, that an undetermined quantity of narcotics
smuggled through South Korea en route to the United States
and other countries. South Korea has become a transshipment
location for drug traffickers, anomalously, due to the
country's reputation for not having a drug abuse problem.
This, combined with the fact that the South Korean port of
Busan is one of the region's largest ports, makes South
Korea an attractive location for illegal shipments coming
from countries that are more likely to attract a
contraband inspection upon arrival. Several large-scale
diversions of dual-use precursor chemicals destined for
Afghanistan were traced back to South Korea. The ROK is a
party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention.
II. Status of Country
Drugs available in the ROK include methamphetamine, heroin,
cocaine, marijuana, and club drugs such as LSD and Ecstasy.
Methamphetamine continues to be the most widely abused
drug, while marijuana remains popular as well. Heroin and
cocaine are only sporadically seen in the ROK. Club drugs
such as Ecstasy and LSD continue to be popular among
college students, and recent enforcement activities have
caused some drug abusers to shift from methamphetamine to
psychotropic substances. To discourage individuals from
producing methamphetamine, the South Korean government
controls the purchase of over-the-counter medicines
containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, requiring
customer registration for quantities greater than 720 mg (a
three-day standard dose). At present, drug addiction
appears limited to a relatively small-to-moderate portion
of the Korean population, and a growing non-ethnic Korean
III. Country Actions Against Drugs 2009
Policy Initiatives. In 2009, the Korean Food and Drug
Administration (KFDA) continued to implement stronger
precursor chemical controls under amended legislation
approved in 2005. The KFDA continued its efforts to
educate companies and train its regulatory investigators on
the enhanced regulations and procedures for administering
the precursor chemical program. In addition to existing
regulatory oversight procedures to track and address
diversion of narcotics and psychotropic substances from
medical facilities, the ROK in 2008 strengthened the
Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Family Affairs' (MHWA)
role in the treatment, protection, and study of drug
addicts. MHWA now has three national rehabilitation
treatment hospitals and 20 local district rehabilitation
hospitals. In addition, the Korean Food and Drug
Administration (KFDA) funds the Korean Association Against
Drug Abuse (KAADA), a non-governmental organization
dedicated to reducing drug-related risks and educating
Koreans on the risks of drug abuse. In 2008, the ROK added
benzylpiperazine to the list of narcotics and gamma
butyrolactone (GBL) to the list of narcotic raw materials.
Law Enforcement Efforts. In the first six months of 2009,
South Korean authorities arrested 3,806 individuals for
narcotic violations, with most offenses being for
methamphetamine and marijuana use. ROK authorities seized
9.1 kg of methamphetamine in the first half of 2009, an
increase over the 7.1 kg seized in the first half of 2008.
Ecstasy seizure figures were not available at the time of
writing. South Korean authorities seized 17.7 kg of
marijuana, which is an increase from the 14.5 kg seized
during the first half of 2008. South Koreans generally do
not use heroin; in the first half of 2009, 356 grams of
heroin were seized, but the shipment was most likely in
transit to another destination. Cocaine is used only
sporadically, with no indication of its use increasing.
Corruption. There have been no reports of corruption
involving narcotics law enforcement in the ROK thus far in
2009. As a matter of government policy, the ROK does not
encourage or facilitate illicit production or distribution
of narcotic or psychotropic or other controlled substances,
or the laundering of proceeds from illegal drug
Agreements and Treaties. South Korea has extradition
treaties with 23 countries and mutual legal assistance
treaties in force with 18 countries, including the United
States. South Korea is a party to the 1988 UN Drug
Convention, the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic
Substances, and the 1961 UN Single Convention, as amended
by its 1972 Protocol. In 2008, South Korea became a party
to the UN Convention against Corruption; it has signed, but
has not yet ratified, the UN Convention on Transnational
Organized Crime and its three protocols. Korean authorities
exchange information with international counternarcotics
agencies such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and
Crime (UNODC) and the International Criminal Police
Organization (INTERPOL), and have placed Korean National
Police and/or Korea Customs Service attaches in Thailand,
Japan, Hong Kong, China, and the United States.
Cultivation/Production. Legal marijuana and hemp growth is
licensed by local Health Departments. The hemp is used to
produce fiber for traditional hand-made ceremonial funeral
clothing. Every year, each District Prosecutor's Office, in
conjunction with local governments, conducts surveillance
into suspected illicit marijuana growing areas during
planting or harvesting time periods to limit possible
illicit diversion. In the first half of 2009, authorities
seized 1,200 plants, a slight increase from 1,050 plants
seized in the first half of 2008. Authorities have cracked
down on several indoor home-growing marijuana cases in the
past few months, most of which involved seeds purchased
from the Netherlands through the internet and grown inside
Opium poppy production is illegal in South Korea, although
poppy continues to be grown in Kyonggi Province where
farmers have traditionally used the harvested plants as a
folk medicine to treat sick pigs and cows. Opium is not
normally processed from these plants for human consumption.
Korean authorities continue surveillance of opium
poppy-growing areas. In the first half of 2009, 3,646 poppy
plants were seized.
No methamphetamine laboratories were discovered in the ROK
in the first six months of 2009. As a matter of reference,
in 2007, there were only two clandestine laboratories
Drug Flow/Transit. Few narcotic drugs originate in South
Korea. The export of narcotic substances is illegal
under South Korean law and none are known to be exported.
The ROK does export various precursor chemicals, however,
acetic anhydride, acetone, toluene, sulfuric
acid and others. Transshipment through South Korea's ports
remains a serious problem. ROK authorities recognize South
Korea's vulnerability as a transshipment nexus and have
undertaken greater efforts to educate shipping companies of
the risk. ROK authorities' ability to directly intercept
the suspected transshipment of narcotics and precursor
chemicals has been limited by the fact that the vast
majority of transiting shipping containers are never
and therefore do not pass through customs inspection.
the ROK continued its international cooperation efforts to
monitor and
investigate transshipment cases. Redoubled efforts by the
Korea Customs Service (KCS) have resulted in increased
seizures of methamphetamine and marijuana by arriving
passengers and through postal services at South Korea's
ports of entry. Most methamphetamine smuggled into South
Korea comes from China. A majority of the LSD and Ecstasy
used in South Korea has been identified as coming from
North America or Europe. People living in metropolitan
areas are known to use marijuana originating in South
Africa and Nigeria, whereas those living in rural areas
appear to obtain their marijuana from locally produced
crops. ROK authorities also report increased instances of
marijuana use among the foreign population in South Korea
in recent years, a trend that is most likely the result of
increased law enforcement efforts targeting this segment of
the population.
Domestic programs/Demand Reduction. The Ministry of Health
and Welfare Affairs conducts programs to treat drug addicts
at 24 hospitals nationwide. The treatment is free and
patients can remain in the program for up to one year. The
primary NGO involved with drug treatment is the Korean
Association Against Drug Abuse (KAADA), which is funded by
both the government and private donations and has twelve
branches throughout the country. Serving approximately 300
patients annually, KAADA provides education on the risks
and dangers of drugs, as well as counseling, sports therapy
and Narcotics Anonymous programs. Convicted drug users and
traffickers may have their indictment/sentencing delayed or
suspended in return for spending up to six months at one of
the centers. KAADA also runs television and radio ad
campaigns to stop the spread of drug abuse among Korean
youth. Beginning in 2009, the national curriculum for
elementary to high school students has been expanded to
include courses on health, of which one segment is devoted
to anti-drug education. KAADA provides former addicts and
experts to speak to students about the dangers of drug use.
Among the biggest challenges to reducing drug use,
according to KAADA, is the ease of buying drugs online,
particularly those disguised as diet pills, which lure even
unsuspecting consumers into beginning the cycle of drug
IV. U.S. Policy Initiatives and Programs
Policy Initiatives and Programs. The U.S. Embassy's Drug
Enforcement Administration (DEA) Seoul Country Office and
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials
work closely with ROK narcotics law enforcement
authorities. Both the DEA and ICE consider their working
relationships to be excellent.
Bilateral Cooperation. The DEA Seoul Country Office has
focused its efforts on international drug interdiction,
seizures of funds and assets related to illicit narcotics
trafficking (in collaboration with ICE), and the diversion
of precursor chemicals in South Korea and in the Far East
region. In addition to meeting with high-level officials
from multiple agencies on a regular basis, the DEA Seoul
Country Office collaborates with the ROK in international
fora. For example, DEA played an important role in the
success of the Anti-drug Liaison Officials' Meeting for
International Cooperation (ADLOMICO), held in Busan in
September 2009, which was attended by 175 representatives
from 22 countries, the United Nations Office on Drugs and
Crime(UNODC), ASEAN and INTERPOL. The objectives of the
meeting were to promote international cooperation in the
fight against drugs/precursors trafficking, and to exchange
information on drug trends, trafficking routes, new tools
and techniques to tackle global illicit drug problems. The
DEA Seoul Country Office continues to share intelligence
regarding the importation of precursor chemicals into South
Korea from the United States and other Asian countries with
the KFDA, KCS, the Korean Supreme Prosecutors' Office
(KSPO), and the Korean National Intelligence Service
(KNIS). DEA also works closely with the KSPO and KCS in
their activities to monitor airport and drug transshipment
methods and trends, including the use of international mail
by drug traffickers. The USCG works with the Korean Coast
Guard, mainly through the multilateral North Pacific Coast
Guard Forum. Activities through this forum focus on the
interdiction of maritime threats, including the smuggling
of illegal drugs, in the North Pacific region.
The Road Ahead. ROK authorities have expressed concern that
the popularity of South Korea as a transshipment nexus may
lead to a greater volume of drugs entering Korean markets.
Korean authorities fear increased accessibility and lower
prices could stimulate domestic drug use in the future.
South Korean authorities also indicate a growing concern
about the importation of narcotics, psychotropic drugs, and
illegal medicines purchased via the internet, predominately
from web sites maintained in the United States. In
response, Korean authorities established a Memorandum of
Understanding with a number of Korean internet portal sites
to allow the KNPA to track and intercept such purchases.
The South Korean government is currently seeking further
international cooperation to better navigate the legal
complexities surrounding the prosecution of transnational
cyber crimes. The DEA Seoul Country Office will continue
its extensive training, mentoring, and operational
cooperation with ROK authorities.
Chemical Control. As of 2009, 25 precursor chemicals are
controlled by Korean authorities. Both the Korean Customs
Service (KCS) and The Korean Food and Drug Administration
(KFDA) participate in Projects Cohesion and Prism. In
addition, the KCS, KFDA and other Korean law enforcement
agencies, such as the Korean National Police, participate
in sub-programs of those projects, such as Data and
Intelligence Collection (DICE) and the Information Sharing
System(ISS). The KFDA closely monitors imports and exports
of precursor chemicals, particularly acetic anhydride, and
investigates shipments suspected of being diverted for
illicit purposes. Permits must be obtained for such
shipments and records of transactions are maintained for a
minimum of two years. The KFDA works with governments of
several Southeast Asian nations to verify documents and
confirm the existence of importing businesses, and sends
representatives to the region to investigate. A bill soon
to be proposed in the National Assembly will require
manufacturers and exporters of precursor chemicals to
with the government, and will also provide education to
Korean businesses to prevent them from unknowingly
exporting such chemicals to bogus importers.
The DEA Seoul Country Office and ROK authorities have
jointly investigated numerous shipments, constituting
multiple tons of acetic anhydride manufactured and imported
from the U.S., that have been illegally exported. Other
precursor chemicals, including acetone, toluene,
hydrochloric acid and sulfuric acid, are produced in large
quantities within the ROK for in-country use and for
export. In a recent notable case from September 2009,
prosecutors arrested a Korean suspect who allegedly
attempted to smuggle 10 tons of acetic anhydride to
Afghanistan through Pakistani agents. The acetic anhydride,
transported under the guise of dyeing agents, was enough to
manufacture heroin for 10 million people, according to a
press release published by the Seoul Central District
Prosecutors' Office. The office said the suspect had become
involved in a Pakistani gang and had already successfully
shipped 6.6 tons of acetic anhydride to Afghanistan in
3. (U) 2009-1010 INCSR input for the DPRK:
According to various ROK open source materials, defectors
from North Korea have indicated that crystal methamphetamine,
called bing-doo (meaning "ice poison") in North Korea, is
manufactured at the Heung-nam Pharmaceutical Company in
Ham-heung City, North Korea. Heroin, called white bellflower
or morphine, is manufactured in a factory, formerly named
Ra-nam Pharmaceutical Company, located near Pyongyang. Based
on open-source information, there are approximately 500,000
drug abusers in North Korea. One kilogram of crystal
methamphetamine is sold at USD 15,000-17,000, while one
kilogram of heroin is sold at USD 60,000-70,000.
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