S. Korean police seek 3 in alleged gold bar scheme
SEOUL — South Korean police have requested arrest warrants for three men they say defrauded several people in a scheme involving nonexistent gold bars they claimed a U.S. Army general acquired in Iraq, officials said Friday.
Taegu police said one of the men, a 50-year-old Seoul man identified only by the family name Chu, faces fraud charges and has been questioned by police. The two men police say were his accomplices, both identified only by the common Korean surname Lee, still are on the run, said Detective Cho Yong-so of the Taegu Metropolitan Police Agency’s Investigation Division.
According to police, the trio approached their victims with a contrived tale of intrigue involving a U.S. Army general who acquired the gold bars in Iraq, then smuggled them to his next duty station in South Korea.
Police said Chu claimed the gold bars once belonged to Saddam Hussein’s two sons, Udai and Qusai, who were killed in a July battle with U.S. forces in Mosul. Police said Chu and the other two men — one of whom dressed himself in the uniform of a U.S. lieutenant colonel — approached one of the victims, yet another man named Lee, in Taegu in September.
The suspect in the military uniform said he worked at Yongsan Garrison and that his boss, an American general, hoped to sell more than 220 pounds of gold bars he smuggled from Iraq, police said. They said the trio then produced three real gold bars — weighing from four pounds to 10 pounds each — as proof of their claim. The bars were stamped with fabricated patterns of the Iraqi national flag, officials said.
The nonexistent general reportedly was willing to part with the gold at just 60 percent of its real value, the suspects claimed.
The men then asked the victim for 200 million won (about $170,000) to buy more of the gold bars, Cho said. In return, they promised him a doubled return on his investment and gave him a heavily sealed bag containing what they claimed were several other gold bars, but in reality were worthless metals.
The man never saw the trio again.
In December, the alleged victim went to the police and reported the situation, leading to a two-month investigation. Police believe at least one of the other men fled to China in November.
During questioning, police determined that there were several more victims throughout South Korea. Some of them, Cho said, would not realize they had been scammed until Friday.
U.S. troops have made several real seizures of gold in Iraq. In a span of two days in May, soldiers intercepted two different dump trucks loaded with 3,000 gold bars worth more than $100 million.