The leaders of the two biggest organized crime rings here are being pushed out amid the police’s toughening crackdown on gangsters and the growing need for a generational change in the underworld.
Cho Yang-eun, who founded the Yangeuni Family in 1978 and once made it the biggest gang in the country, publicly announced his “retirement” in 2009, but has remained the de-facto leader of the ring.
He is now hiding overseas as the police are investigating his involvement in a financial scam and an arrest warrant has been issued for the 61-year-old.
another ring called the Beomseobang Family and long-time rival of Cho, has been hospitalized since he collapsed while being questioned by detectives for abetting in violence. Kim’s health condition is reportedly deteriorating.
Police said Sunday they apprehended 881 gangsters and jailed 175 of them as a result of the second stage of a “war against crime,” which was launched in the wake of a bloody fight between organized rings at an Incheon funeral center last October. After the first stage of the operation, police also took some 140 into custody. Dozens of underlings of the two gang leaders are now on trial.
Their fall from grace doesn’t necessarily mean that the country has become a safer place. Rather, it represents the end of their era and a generational shift in the leadership of criminal rings as they turn to legal businesses to avoid crackdowns.
“They set up companies to invest in construction, leisure, hotels and financing and even engage in contracts with public agencies,” an officer from the National Police Agency said. “When they have to use violence to intimidate competitors or for other reasons, they hire gangsters. They don’t do it themselves.”
One of the gangsters nabbed during the latest crackdown acted as a venture business investor, carrying name cards that described him as a senior executive of an investment company.
“They do business with legally-obtained licenses. The difference is that they sometimes use violence and blackmail people to expand their business,” the officer said.
Previously, the biggest income sources for Cho and Kim were nightclubs, bars, karaoke rooms and massage parlors where prostitution also took place. They extorted money from such businesses under the pretext of protecting them from other rings and sometimes ran their own stores.
In one incident, Kim attacked and maimed Cho’s boss when the two rings clashed over the “rights” on entertainment facilities in southern Seoul.
The Yangeuni Family once had more than 10,000 members. Cho served his first prison sentence from 1980 to 1995 after being convicted of murder and social unrest. He was released in 1995 but jailed again the following year on charges of drug trafficking and attempted homicide.
After being released in 1998, he surprisingly entered a Catholic school saying he would become a priest. However, he was arrested again in 2001 for gambling and blackmail and received a 10-month prison sentence.
He fled overseas last year after police launched a massive crackdown on organized crime.