South Koreans face up to three years in prison for gambling while overseas

south-korea-overseas-gambling-crimeProsecutors in South Korea have indicted a top cosmetics executive for gambling while traveling outside the country.

Jeong Un-ho was arrested earlier this month on charges of gambling in Asian gaming jurisdictions including Macau and the Philippines on trips organized by junket operators. On Wednesday, the 50-year-old founder of the Faceshop cosmetics firm was officially charged for his gambling exploits, during which he allegedly wagered a total of KRW 10b (US $8.5m).

Jeong isn’t the only top business exec in hot water. Last week, reports circulated that the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office was preparing to charge Kim Beom-soo, chairman of telecom firm Kakao, with gambling overseas. Prosecutors reportedly received documents from the US Department of Justice indicating that Kim engaged in some high-stakes gambling on multiple occasions at casinos in Las Vegas between 2007 and 2013.

Gambling is heavily restricted in South Korea, which allows local residents to enter just one of the country’s 17 casinos. But South Korea also frowns on its citizens gambling while abroad, and those who fail to observe this rule risk being labeled a habitual overseas gambler (although there is an out for those who gamble “just for momentary pleasure”).

Being labeled a habitual gambler is no joke, as the law allows for the possibility of fines of up to KRW 20m and prison stints of up to three years. The Supreme Court has recommended a sentencing guideline based on the frequency and scale of the gambling in question, which doesn’t bode well for Jeong.

In 2011, Korean entertainer Shin Jung Hwan was sentenced to eight months in prison for gambling a mere KRW 210m at a casino in the Philippines. In 2013, several other Korean celebs received six-month sentences for much smaller online sports betting activity, although these sentences were suspended on the condition that the celebs kept their noses clean.

South Korea is equally rough on those who facilitate gambling, as the Seoul prosecutors said they have arrested nine junket operators between June and October. Prosecutors said most of the junket operators were members of local organized crime rings.

Meanwhile, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) has offered more details on last month’s reports that North Korea was running online gambling sites targeting South Korean punters. The Chosun Ilbo news service quoted the NIS saying there were around 1,100 North Koreans operating online gambling services in countries like China and Malaysia.

According to the NIS, each of these 1,100 agents generated an average of $20k from their gambling operations; hard currency that is funnelled back to the impoverished North Korean regime. One sports betting site reportedly generated over $3.5m in revenue in just the first six months of 2015. Other North Korean agents are said to be in the business of selling in-game items to players of online fantasy games. Hope at least some of these guys use their time outside North Korea to check out The Interview on DVD.