Four runaway American soldiers have been arrested on suspicion of producing and selling a new type of synthetic drug, South Korean police officers said Monday.
The suspects, including a 23-year-old private from the U.S. Army, only known by his initial K, are accused of smuggling synthetic marijuana via international air mail, officers said. They then allegedly produced a new type of narcotics called "Spice," and sold the drugs to locals, foreigners, and other American soldiers in the foreigners' hub of Itaewon and the Hongdae area in central Seoul.
Spice refers to a wide variety of herbal mixtures that, when smoked, give users a marijuana-like high, an officer at the Gyeonggi Provincial Police Agency said.
After deserting the Army in March, the four soldiers sold one gram of Spice for between US$30 and $50, pocketing a total of around 20 million won ($18,527), the officer said.
Two suspects were apprehended in May, one in July, and another in October, the officer said, adding that they were selling drugs to cover living expenses. The four are currently in U.S. Army custody.
The agency said it has also arrested a 27-year-old Filipino woman, only known by her initial D, on the same charges. Twelve locals and foreigners, and 13 other American soldiers have been arrested without detention on charges of buying and using Spice.
The officers said they have seized around one kilogram of synthetic drugs, which is enough for approximately 1,000 doses and has an estimated street value of 60 million won.
Police said they will expand their investigation into sales channels and other U.S. Army deserters linked to drug crimes.
The U.S. military officials said they will step up measures to tackle drug problems among service members in the nation.
"Stopping the use of drugs by our personnel is a priority. We take these issues very seriously and are cooperating with the Korean National Police to employ every possible tool at our disposal to fight and prevent the use of drugs," said Col. Andrew C. Mutter, the Eighth Army public affairs officer.
About 28,500 U.S. soldiers serve in Korea. Their presence is a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty and left the two Koreas technically at war.
Under South Korean law, illegal drug users or traffickers can be sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison or fined up to 50 million won. (Yonhap)