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Mexican Authorities Break Up 'Korean Mafia' - 2002-12-07

In Mexico, authorities have broken up what they describe as a "Korean mafia" that has been illegally importing and selling contraband goods from Asia on the Mexican market. Mexican business leaders are calling for more action against contraband gangs.

In raids carried out Thursday in Mexico City, the Federal Preventive Police arrested 43 people of Korean nationality and 36 Mexicans accused of working with the so-called "Korean mafia." They are accused of operating smuggling organizations that illegally import goods from Asia, including pirated items.

The police confiscated 180 tons of merchandise, including toys, clothing, purses, bags and even Christmas ornaments. They found many items with well-known brand names that were actually pirated copies produced in Asian nations.

The President of the Mexican employers association, known as COPARMEX, Jorge Espina, said more such police action is needed to protect domestic industries. He said all the contraband, pirated items and stolen goods sold in Mexican markets are under the control of organized crime. He said he hopes the police actions represent the beginning of an effort to stop this criminal activity.

Mr. Espina said much more needs to be done to combat corruption at the nation's ports, in particular the Pacific port of Manzanillo. Authorities have traced some of the goods to shipments that came through that port. Last year, the federal police stopped a load of similar merchandise at the port, but there are indications that the contraband trade has continued.

Federal authorities say some 600 police agents took part in this week's operation. They say the Korean citizens who were arrested will be charged and put on trial. Authorities say some of the Koreans who lack proper immigration documents will be deported. There are about 15,000 Koreans living in Mexico legally and working in various sectors including retailing and small manufacturing.