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12 investigated for illegally smuggling in 106 foreign women

Sept. 7, 2023 - 15:27 By Yoon Min-sik
This photo is not directly related to this article. Gyeonggi Nambu Provincial Police Agency chief Hong Ki-hyeon (middle, front row), and police officers patrol an area in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

The Ansan Immigration Office said Thursday it has transferred to the prosecution 12 South Korean men for their suspected involvement in the illegal smuggling of 106 foreign women into the country to work as bar hostesses, disguising them as singers and models.

The suspects include a 46-year-old broker and the 47-year-old owner of the business establishment that hired the women, along with the 52-year-old head of a local talent agency who sent out invitations to the women, according to the Justice Ministry-affiliated office.

The suspects are accused of recruiting women in other countries including Russia and Thailand between November 2020 and June 2022. Despite their intent to employ the women as bar hostesses, the suspects allegedly fabricated related documents, including labor contracts, to help the women get E-6-1 visas, granted to performers in music, art, fashion modeling and other fields of entertainment.

Some drinking establishments here, such as the one involved in this case, employ attractive women as hostesses to interact with customers in various ways, in some cases leading to prostitution. The exact nature of the establishment in question had not been verified as of this writing.

The officials caught wind of illegal activity in June of last year, when they found that the bar was illegally employing 16 women of foreign nationality as hostesses and launched the investigation. The broker fled to Thailand the next month, but was apprehended by immigration officials there and repatriated to South Korea.

The owner of the establishment had been charged with similar offenses on several previous occasions.

Korea's immigration office said it has deported 46 of the 106 women, and is currently working to track down the others. “We believe there are more agencies and bars involved in bringing in foreign women for illegal employment, and plan to keep clamping down on such activities,” the office said.

The Article 7-2 of the Immigration Act prohibits inviting foreign individuals via false statement or reference, or assisting such an act, and states that violation is punishable by up to three years in prison or 30 million won ($22,515) in fines.

Similar crimes have occurred in the past. In 2019, a then-44-year-old South Korean man was sentenced to 10 months in prison for bringing in scores of Filipino women to work as bar hostesses, with fake documents claiming that they were singers, which got them E-6-1 visas.