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YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — The prospect of landing a few extra bucks is always tempting, military investigators know.

But that temptation — to sell a few groceries or bottles of liquor for profit — has led to punishment for 57 servicemembers, family members, civilian workers and contractors so far this year, according to statistics from the Provost Marshal’s office for U.S. Forces Korea.

“Commanders are taking action,” said Air Force Maj. Resti Andin, the USFK customs chief.

Servicemembers can face informal charges from their command or even a court-martial, Andin said. Civilian workers, family members and contractors can lose their privilege to shop at the commissaries or post exchange stores and even can be banned from bases.

Both uniformed and civilian personnel can face criminal prosecution under Korean customs law in certain cases, Andin said.

In addition to an improved tracking system at commissaries, USFK is countering black-marketing by improving its relationship with Korean Customs Service officials, Andin said. In the past, there has been a tendency to handle black-marketing cases with American suspects within the parameters of USFK, Andin said. That is changing.

A black-marketing “working group” has been established and has met during the past two months to talk about sharing records and tips to build stronger cases. Andin said reaching out to Korean officials makes sense, especially because USFK officials have no jurisdiction to take evidence or even ask questions outside a U.S. military base.

That effort for better conversation has not filtered down to the Seoul office of Kim Jong-mu, a senior Korean Customs Service investigator who oversees cases involving U.S. military goods. Kim said he feels hamstrung on cases in which American paperwork — such as receipts, inventory lists and employee information — is needed to prove criminal activity. This month, Kim was working on a handful of cases that took months to put together, he said.

In his two decades at the customs office, Kim said he’s seen the larger, more organized black-marketing rings switch from dealing electronics to dealing alcohol.

Still, he said, the customs office sees occasional cases involving high-priced equipment.

“The small-time black marketers will always exist,” he said.


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