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Masterminds of Stowaways to ROK Put on Trial
Seven Chinese went on trial yesterday in Beijing accused of masterminding efforts to smuggle 66 people to the Republic of Korea (ROK) last March.

Beijing No 2 Intermediate People's Court heard the stowaways were told to pose as fans heading to the Korean Peninsula for the 2002 World Cup for football.

The case has rocked the tourism industry and has been billed as the largest disappearance of Chinese in the ROK since 1998. That was the year travel to the ROK was authorized for Chinese citizens by national travel chiefs.

No verdict was reached by the court yesterday in the case.

According to the bill of indictment by the No 2 Branch of the Beijing People's Procuratorate, the seven defendants made profits of more than 1 million yuan (US$120,800) from the people smuggling operation.

The 66 Chinese citizens landed at Incheon, a port in northwest ROK, on a flight from the Beijing Capital International Airport.

A total of 23 people have subsequently been detained and sent back to China by ROK police. The remainder are still at large, said public prosecutor Liu Gang.

According to ROK police, most of the 28 men and 15 women are aged in their 30s and are workers holding fake passports.

The indictment accused 30-year-old Liu Jie, one of the seven defendants, of illegally engraving the seals of some educational organizations such as the Tianjin Experimental Primary School and Yibin Lujia Kindergarten on to forged occupation certificates for the 66 people.

Liu and the co-accused then made up a company to provide financial guarantees to the China Youth Travel Service (CYTS), the indictment stated.

Liu Jie pleaded guilty to all charges except that of illegally engraving seals.

The seven defendants were detained in March last year on suspicion of planning to flee the country and were formally arrested the following month.

The main suspect, Liu Jie, was jailed for four years in 1992 for intentional homicide, according to the indictment.

Acting as intermediary organization in the incident last year, CYTS has suffered economic losses and the ramifications of the case continue today.

The company was forbidden from conducting tourism services to ROK for six months.

At the same time, two other Chinese travel services received the same punishment for a shorter period.

"In fact, our company continued to organize travel to South Korea through cooperation with other tourism organizations during the World Cup period last year," said a CYTS senior manager, who declined to be identified.

He admitted business continues to be affected by the accident despite fruitful efforts to resume the cross-border trip to ROK in September.

The manager refused to reveal exactly the size of the losses from the incident.

Sources with the National Tourism Administration said tourism organizations were under great pressure as a travel credit supervision system has yet to be established.

(China Daily February 12, 2003)

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