South Korean police arrest 452 people on charges of cryptocurrency-fueled drug trafficking

South Korean police continue to wage a “war” on cryptocurrency-based drug trafficking, with officers in the capital Seoul making 452 arrests from June 2022 to December 2023.

According to the Money Today media outlet, police arrested three suspected drug dealers. Officers also charged 445 buyers and four illegal “cryptocurrency trading platform operators.”

Are South Korean police in a tough fight against cryptocurrency-fueled drug crime?

Police have released data showing their investigations date back to between 2018 and the end of 2023.

The nation is grappling with what politicians have called an “epidemic” of cryptocurrency-based youth drug trafficking.

Officers said 90% of those arrested were aged between 20 and 39, and that five teenagers had also been charged.

In the past, police teams across the country have made arrests related to cryptocurrency-based drug trafficking.

But this is the first time that agents have managed to shut down an alleged illegal cryptocurrency exchange run by gangs linked to drug trafficking.

A police spokesman said 146 of the suspects had criminal records. The spokesperson added that the majority (60%) of the deals involved marijuana.

Over 23% of the trades involved methamphetamines (also known as methamphetamines). Other deals involved drugs such as ecstasy (MDMA), synthetic marijuana and ketamine.

The teenage suspects reportedly told police they were able to find the drug dealers through social media broadcasts and Internet posts. was able to see dozens of what appeared to be Korean-language advertisements from drug dealers claiming to be able to “deliver” narcotics “nationwide” on channels X (Twitter) and Telegram.

Police have released images of some of the items seized during the raids.

Narcotics seized by Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency. (Source: Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency)

Cryptocurrency monitoring tools have helped us catch criminals, police say

Nam Sung-shin, head of the First Drug Crime Investigation Department at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, briefed reporters on the arrests on February 28.

Nam explained that agents used cryptographic and blockchain tracking tools to identify suspects.

The head of the department said that tracking “cryptoassets sent to sellers’ wallet addresses” has paid off.

The use of these means allowed officers to track down suspects and “arrest them in large numbers”. Nam said:

“Many people think that if they use the dark web or certain chat apps or social media platforms, their anonymity will be guaranteed. They think police officers won’t be able to track them down. However, investigative personnel with extensive investigative experience are constantly on the lookout for drug-related offenders.”

South Korean police said they have charged the four alleged “virtual asset trading agency operators” with violating the Specific Financial Information Law.

The act requires all cryptocurrency exchanges and wallet operators to obtain operating licenses from the Regulatory Financial Intelligence Unit.

So far, only five domestic cryptocurrency exchanges, all part of an association calling itself DAXA, have received the necessary permits to allow cryptocurrency trading in KRW.

South Korean companies that have not seen growth for a long time risk being delisted from the stock exchange, says national financial regulator

— Bloomberg (@business), February 28, 2024

The same exchanges last year joined forces with regulators in an effort to crack down on “unlicensed” and “unregistered” cryptocurrency trading platforms.

In November 2023, Daegu city police said they raided a “drug trafficking organization” that used cryptocurrencies as a payment instrument. Officers said they arrested 48 people in the raids.

The city’s police agency’s Metropolitan Investigation Unit said 44 members of the group were linked to a suspected “overseas narcotics sales organization.”

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