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Gold bars found in South Korea airport trash pose legal quandary

By Elizabeth Shim
Gold bars found in South Korea airport trash pose legal quandary
Gold bars from Hong Kong were found in the trash at Incheon International Airport in South Korea, local police said Monday. File Photo by Narong Sangnak/EPA

June 3 (UPI) -- South Korean authorities are facing a dilemma following the discovery of more than 2 pounds of gold bullion in a trash receptacle at Incheon International Airport.

The seven gold bars were discovered on April 28, 2018, at about 5 p.m. by an airport custodian, according to South Korea's customs office and Seoul police agency on Monday, Newsis and News 1 reported.

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The gold bullion is estimated to be worth nearly $300,000 at current exchange rates.

Police said they have identified three suspects who were attempting to smuggle the precious metal from Hong Kong to Japan, using a route that involves a transfer at Incheon, South Korea.

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The suspects were using the route to circumvent tougher inspections that are reportedly in place at Japanese ports of entry for arrivals from Hong Kong, according to reports.

The three suspects, who remain unidentified, were involved in relaying the gold at Incheon.

Suspect "A" was directly responsible for purchasing the gold bars in Hong Kong with the objective of making a 10 percent profit when they were resold in Japan.

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The suspect traveled to Incheon with the gold, and handed the bullion to his accomplices, Suspects "B" and "C," in the transfer terminal of the airport.

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The plan was for the suspects to carry the gold to a plane bound for Fukuoka, Japan, but they panicked and threw the seven bars into the garbage after they saw customs officers in the transfer terminal of the South Korean airport.

Local police said airport footage shows a "Korean man" tossing the gold into the trash.

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South Korea authorities have yet to convict the suspects for their attempt to circumvent customs, however.

Korean law penalizes violations, including smuggling, but the transfer terminal is a "duty-free zone" and the gold was never technically brought into Korea, possibly placing the suspects in a gray area. The gold could even be returned to the suspects.

Legal precedent indicates the suspects may not be easily dismissed.

A similar case in Busan, South Korea, involving 10 suspects, who made nearly $34 million in smuggled gold profits from 2015 to 2016, resulted in the arrest of four people and six indictments, according to Newsis.

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