South Korean Police Arrest 48 in ‘Crypto-powered Drug Trafficking’ Raids

Metal coins intended to represent Bitcoin and other cryptoassets with a pair of police handcuffs.
Source: Angelov/Adobe

Police in the South Korean city of Daegu say they have raided a “drug trafficking organization” that used crypto as a payment tool – and arrested 48 people.

Per Chosun Ilbo, the Daegu Police Agency’s metropolitan investigation unit arrested 44 people connected to a suspected “overseas drug sales organization.”

The group of arrestees included both “drug dealers and buyers,” police spokespeople said.

The same police agency charged another four individuals – apparently unconnected to the “organization” – with similar crypto-powered drug trafficking offenses.

Officers said an unnamed individual, identified for legal reasons as “A” (age 31), worked as the organization’s “general manager.”

Police added that the organization was “international,” and had operatives working abroad.

Nine people, including A, were remanded in police custody. The remainder were released on bail pending a prosecution service investigation.

A police building in Daegu, South Korea.
A police building in Daegu, South Korea. (Source: hyolee2 [CC BY-SA 3.0])

Officers say that A “and others” smuggled drugs into South Korea from December 2022 to May 2023.

Police said that the group hired drug “mules,” who swallowed bags of narcotics or hid them in body cavities.

Officers said they were initially unaware of A’s existence, but began to close the net on the 31-year-old after investigating the organization’s lower-ranked operatives.

Police Bust Thwarts International Operation?

A was based in an overseas location, but South Korean police managed to track the “general manager” down by cooperating with international police forces.

Police spokespeople confirmed detectives had seized “over $1.7 million worth of drugs” in their raids.

Items seized by police during the raids, including bags of methamphetamine and ketamine, cash, and electronic devices.
Items seized by police during the raids, including bags of methamphetamine and ketamine, cash, and electronic devices. (Source: Daegu Police Agency)

The haul included hundreds of grams of methamphetamine, ketamine, and synthetic marijuana, and comprised some “27,000 doses.”

Detectives also seized cash and devices such as mobile phones and laptop PCs during their raids.

Officers said the group “shared drug transaction information” on Telegram channels and used unnamed cryptoassets to make payments.

Kim Moo-geon, the head of the Daegu Police Agency’s narcotics investigation unit, was quoted as saying:

“We will continue to respond quickly and decisively to narcotics crimes committed [using modern technology]. We will continue to crack down on these [criminals].”

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Rise in South Korean Crypto-powered Drug Trafficking? has seen hundreds of posts from what appears to be South Korean drug dealers on social media platforms such as X (formerly Twitter).

Many of these posts feature images of bags of narcotics and make promises of “nationwide delivery.”

The social media posts also typically include narcotics prices denominated in South Korean won.

The posts’ authors typically invite would-be customers to contact them via Telegram channels to organize payment and delivery.

Earlier this year, South Korean President Yoon Seok-yeol called for an “all-out war” on crypto-powered drug dealing.

Drug use, powered almost exclusively by crypto payments, has soared in South Korea in recent years.

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In March, the country was stunned by the case of a 14-year-old girl who was found unconscious in a public stairwell after allegedly using crypto to buy some $300 worth of methamphetamine.

Police have stepped up their efforts to crack down on crypto-powered drug trading, and say that they are being aided by newly acquired blockchain analytics tools.

The campaign has resulted in multiple arrests and convictions, although media outlets have decried a “continuous flow” of teen convictions for crypto-powered drug offenses.

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