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Mad cow disease hasn’t killed anyone in South Korea, but it killed a Korean police investigation this week.

West Incheon police won’t try to find the end supplier in a black-market ring on U.S. bases because of stubborn suspects and fears of re-igniting the anxiety over U.S. beef imports that gripped South Korea for months, police said Thursday. Earlier, police arrested a Songtan storekeeper — a 41-year-old woman identified only as "A" — along with another woman for violating the South Korean Food Sanitation Act. They arrested their supplier, a 49-year-old identified as "B," who ran a shop in Seoul’s Namdaemun area.

The three storekeepers would not name the next link, an investigator close to the case told Stars and Stripes on Thursday.

"We’re not really certain if they know who the end supplier is," the investigator said on the condition of anonymity, which is customary in South Korea.

The suspects earned about $126,000 since March 18, 2005, the investigator said. They allegedly sold beef, pork, over-the-counter medicines and other products stocked at base post exchanges and commissaries.

About half of the products they sold were illegal, although some of them, such as Viagra, did not come from U.S. bases, the investigator said. The investigator says he expects prosecutors to charge the three suspects, but he says they’ll likely be fined and spared prison time. The investigator said government officials criticized the police department for continuing the investigation because it cast attention on U.S. beef making its way to South Korean dinner tables and restaurants.

This summer, hundreds of thousands of South Koreans protested in the streets when the Lee Myung-bak administration struck a free-trade deal allowing U.S. beef back into the country. The beef had been banned by the previous administration when a Canadian cow imported into Washington state in 2003 was found to have bovine spongiform encephalopathy, better known as mad cow disease.

A South Korean TV news magazine claimed that most Koreans carry a gene making them more susceptible to mad cow disease, though they later retracted the report.

Commissary and Army and Air Force Exchange Service officials in South Korea were unavailable for comment late Thursday.

Police believe the black-marketed goods came from Camp Humphreys, Osan Air Base or Yongsan Garrison because of their proximity to the suspects’ stores. Officials encourage anyone who witnesses black marketing to report it at DSN 738-5118.

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