Philippine police murder South Korean businessman before collecting ransom

Philippine authorities said Philippine police officers were behind the abduction and murder of a South Korean businessman.
Philippine authorities said Philippine police officers were behind the abduction and murder of a South Korean businessman. PHOTO: EPA

MANILA (AFP) - Philippine police kidnapped and murdered a South Korean businessman, then led his wife to believe he was alive for months to extort money from her, authorities said on Wednesday (Jan 18).

The killing is the latest in a long series of criminal acts by members of the Philippine police force, regarded as one of the nation's most corrupt institutions, and has fuelled concerns about its role enforcing President Rodrigo Duterte's deadly crime war.

The man disappeared from his home in the northern city of Angeles in October last year, and his wife initially paid a ransom of 5 million pesos (S$142,729), national police spokesman Dionardo Carlos told AFP.

However, the man was strangled to death and burned to ashes in a crematorium on the day he was abducted, the South Korean foreign ministry said, citing a Philippine government report.

The crematorium was owned by a former police officer, the foreign ministry said.

The South Korean government identified the man only by his surname of Ji and said he was in his 50s. Philippine media said he was a businessman who had been working in the Philippines since 2008 and had been working for a manpower company.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se demanded answers after receiving a phone call from Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay to inform him of the murder.

"Minister Yun, expressing grave shock over the implication of Philippine police officers in the case, asked that the Philippine government get to the bottom of the case and bring those responsible to justice," a foreign ministry spokesman said.

Ricky Santa Isabel, one of the officers accused of going to Mr Ji's house and abducting him, surrendered this week, according to Mr Carlos, the police spokesman.

He said another two officers who went with him to the house were under investigation.

Mr Carlos said a retired police officer was also believed to be involved but had fled to Canada.

All three accused officers were from the Anti-Illegal Drugs Group based at national police headquarters in Manila, according to Mr Carlos.

He said that Santa Isabel and the other two officers went to Mr Ji's house on the pretext of a drug raid.

The abductors demanded from Mr Ji's wife a ransom of 8 million pesos on Oct 30, 12 days after he was killed, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper, which first reported the news.

It said that she paid 5 million pesos, but the kidnappers then demanded another 4.5 million pesos and continued to say he was alive.

The case has drawn criticism from some lawmakers and media in the Philippines as an example of corrupt policemen expanding their illegal activities after being given freedoms by Mr Duterte to prosecute his war on drugs.

Mr Duterte has encouraged police to kill drug traffickers and addicts, and vowed to shield them from prosecution.

Nearly 6,000 people have died in Mr Duterte's drug war since he took office in the middle of last year.

Mr Carlos insisted to AFP the abduction of Mr Ji was not related to Mr Duterte's drug war, saying the problem of kidnappings for ransom by corrupt police had existed for a long time.

"It turned out it was an old modus operandi where bad cops claim there is a drug raid and turn it into a kidnap for ransom," Mr Carlos said.

The police force was among the most corrupt national agencies, according to a 2015 report from the national ombudsman.

A 2013 survey by anti-graft watchdog Transparency International also found that the police force was perceived by Filipinos to be the Philippines' most corrupt institution.