Aguirre: 'Korean mafia' could be behind Jee Ick Joo slay

MANILA, Philippines – Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Thursday, February 23, urged authorities to look into the alleged involvement of the "Korean mafia" in the killing of South Korean businessman Jee Ick Joo.

Aguirre made the statement at the Senate inquiry into the case, and alleged that the group behind Jee's slay might even involve some people from the South Korean embassy.

Aguirre told the Senate committee on public order that he was informed that Jee was kidnapped twice by "Korean mafia" in the country. (WATCH: LIVE: Senate hearing on 'TokHang for ransom')

“There was information given to me that Mr Jee Ick Joo was abducted twice already by what we call the 'Korean mafia' or 'Korean yakuza'. I don’t know what name they call it. I would like to ask, although I'm not an investigator, we need to pursue every theory of the case,” Aguirre told the Senate panel.

To further push his point, Aguirre said he has been hearing about the supposed in-fighting among Koreans since he was with the Clark Development Corporation. He, however, did not present any evidence or proof.

Aguirre, merely citing information given him, said Jee had enemies from the Korean mafia.

“Mayroong theory [na] may kalaban si Jee Ick Joo sa Korean mafia. (There is a theory that Jee Ick Joo has an enemy in the Korean mafia). They hired the scalawags in police agencies, from the NBI to PNP,” he said.

Citing an unnamed former NBI official, Aguirre also alleged that several people from the South Korean embassy are “compromised” by the mafia.

“I met another former NBI official, talagang malaki na ang lawak ng Korean mafia at sinasabi niya (Its scope is very wide and he is saying that) even some people in the Korean embassy are already compromised by this Korean mafia. And then we heard, from Colonel Dumlao (PNP-AKG), when being investigated that the people, the Korean mafia are so big na mahihirapan tayo (we would have difficulty ending it),” Aguirre said.

Aguirre recalled meeting with Jee’s wife, Choi Kyung Jin, the South Korean consulate, and its political attaché. He said the Korean officials told him to “stop any further investigation” in connection with the "mafia."

“'Di pa naman tayo tapos diyan e, nagtataka lang ako bakit pinapa-stop na nila that could lead to a possible theory na ito’y talagang pinapatay,” he said.

(We are not yet done yet. I was wondering why they are asking us to stop that when it could lead to a possible theory that he was really ordered killed.)

Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV cautioned Aguirre, saying the South Korean ambassador to the Philippines should be allowed to give a "proper response."

"That’s a serious allegation, Mr Secretary," Aquino told the justice chief.

Senior Superintendent Albert Ignatius Ferro, officer-in-charge of the PNP-Anti-Illegal Drugs Group (AIDG), said it is possible that a "transnational syndicate" is behind Jee’s death.

“There is the possibility of a transnational syndicate behind this kind of operation wherein organized crime groups recruit personnel from the PNP, NBI, considering the fact that, per records, there are several Koreans being investigated, that are being arrested by our counterparts on the other side,” Ferro said.

NBI, PNP contradict Aguirre

But during the early part of the hearing, the PNP-Anti-Kidnapping Group and the National Bureau of Investigation, both leading the probe into the Korean slay, said there is no involvement of a "Korean mafia" in Jee’s killing.

"There is no involvement of Korean mafia," said PNP-AKG chief Glenn Dumlao.

"Initial report we gathered from the deputy director is that as of the moment, we cannot say with certainty that there is a Korean mafia in the Philippines. The report only states there are some organized criminal Korean groups in the country. As to mafia, at the moment, we cannot state a positive or negative [answer]," NBI Assistant Director Medardo Delemos said at the hearing.

Dumlao, however, said they are also looking into the involvement of a South Korean national allegedly named Edward Yu-on, who supposedly asked a total of P800,000 from Jee's wife. (READ: Jee Ick Joo killed to 'silence' him on cops' extortion of Koreans)

The case had prompted a halt in the government's Oplan TokHang anti-drug strategy. The drug war has claimed over 7,000 lives since the new administration took over on July 1.

A criminal case has been filed by the PNP-AKG against 3 former NBI officials and other police officers tagged in the murder. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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