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South Korean Police Arrest 312 in Crypto-powered Drug Trading Busts

Tim Alper
Last updated: | 2 min read
A close-up of a person’s hands, holding a bag of what appears to be narcotics, being handcuffed by a police officer.
Source: fusssergei/Adobe

South Korean police are stepping up their crackdown on crypto-powered drug trafficking, and have made 312 arrests in a wide-sweeping narcotics bust.

The broadcaster KBS reported that the arrests were carried out by the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency’s Drug Crime Investigation.

The suspects were charged with violating the Narcotics Control Act.

Police said the suspects were thought to have bought or sold drugs using dark web portals.

They are thought to have made use of “non-domestic” chat apps like Telegram, and conducted trades using cryptoassets such as Bitcoin (BTC).

And police said that the group contained at least six alleged “large-scale” drug dealers.

This group included a man in his 20s who also ran  an “internet shopping mall.”

The suspected dealers are thought to have smuggled drugs into the country from overseas or bought from South Korean smugglers.

Officers claimed the suspected dealers had been active from December 2020 to March 2023.

The “internet shopping mall” operator, police think, appears to have been a key player, and allegedly expanded his operations from selling conventional goods to trading drugs on the dark web.

Other individuals were charged with offenses that involved growing marijuana at home and then selling it online or to “neighbors.”

Police said that only one of the six suspected “major” sellers had previous drug-related convictions.

South Korean Police in Crypto-powered Drug Trading Crackdown

Officers said most of the traffickers had used “dead drop” methods to distribute and buy narcotics.

Buyers allegedly paid upfront using BTC and altcoins, while dealers later left bags of drugs hidden in public places, such as apartment entrances.

The dealers then contacted buyers via Telegram to tell them where to pick up the drugs once they had left the area.

But it appears a few of the suspects were not directly involved in crypto-related drug trading.

These included an office worker in his 40s, who allegedly approached a licensed hemp plantation operator asking for cannabis to help treat a sick child.

The plantation operator believed this story, and took pity on the office worker.

Police later discovered the office worker had invented the story, and had been smoking the donated cannabis “for free.”

A police spokesperson stated:

“As drug distribution spreads, the line between drug dealers and buyers is becoming blurry.”

Police forces have invested heavily in blockchain analytics software that they think will help them identify crypto-powered drug trade networks.

The National Police Agency’s drugs task force charged 533 people with using BTC or altcoins to buy or sell narcotics last year.

But the problem of crypto-powered drug crime is continuing to rise.

In March, a 14-year-old girl was arrested for allegedly using crypto to buy methamphetamine (crystal meth).

And teenagers were jailed in April for using crypto to trade MDMA (ecstasy) and ketamine.