If you’re planning to travel this winter, pay very close attention to whom that travel agent is claiming to be able to get you “Real Cheap Travel.” The clues will be rather obvious: he goes by the name Wystan Kang or Joseph Kim; he works for Zenith Travel or Expert Travel; he promises he has a great fare lined up for you to Palau, Hanoi, Bangkok, Fukuoka…anywhere; you need to wire the amount to his bank account before you can get the ticket; days start to pass and he’s not getting back to you; The ticket may have some trouble, he tells you (or maybe he doesn’t and you end up at the airport where you’re informed the ticket has been cancelled); he can’t return your money; he’s very sorry.
This is the story that dozens of expats have to tell stretching back many months. Yet there had been a hint of justice in October of 2011 when Wan-koo Kang (aka Wystan, aka Joseph Kim) was arrested, had his business license suspended by the Seocho District Office and the doors of Zenith Travel were closed. The case then went from the Seoul Metro Police Agency’s International Crime Investigation Department to the Central Branch of the Seoul District Prosecutors’ Office and then on to the Eastern Branch of the Seoul District Prosecutors’ Office where it is continuing now. Reportedly, Kang was taken before a court after his arrest where the judges determined that he would be released without detention while the case proceeded.
Calls placed to the International Crime Investigation Dept. to reach the Sergeant who’d originally handled the case were responded to with bemusement and a notification that the officer no longer worked there (he’d been transferred). The Prosecutors’ Office responding to inquiries said that a new prosecutor had been appointed to the case. That prosecutor, Kim Chi-hyoon, said the office is aware of the new Expert Travel agency and is working to gather more evidence to prove that it is in fact Wan-koo Kang working there (John Power at the Korea Herald previously assured 3WM that he confirmed that it is certainly Kang).
Kim Hyun-joo of the Korea Tourism Organization’s Tourism Complaint Center, who first became aware of the case at the end of August, 2011, continues to gather what evidence she can to present to the Prosecutors’ Office. In several conversations over the past week Ms. Kim repeatedly said that there needs to be more evidence to show the connection between Kang and Kim. “We need documented facts that can be presented to the prosecutors and then to a judge,” said Ms. Kim. Until Wednesday, January 25, Ms. Kim will be accepting any evidence which she will translate and submit to the Prosecutors’ Office on Monday, January 30. She believes this evidence will allow for Kang to be detained by the court. “If we present evidence, the Prosecutors’ Office can take it to the court and ask for Kang to be arrested and detained,” said Ms. Kim. “This is wrong and I want to see him punished,” she added.
A fair number of the victims who number in the dozens (at least), are feeling a sense of futility as the cases roll on—there is one criminal case and several civil cases against Kang—with little to no information available while Kang continues to audaciously operate. “I think people are waiting for us to leave,” said Liroy Lourenco, 25, who was scammed by Kang for 1,495,000 KRW in July. Lourenco, an English teacher from South Africa, had Kang book him a flight home for September and received the flight itinerary below.
A few weeks later, Lourenco was informed that the flight had been cancelled and sent the standard apology letter from Kang saying, “Sorry for the trouble. I will refund you the money but I can’t give you the money immediatley because unfortunately we are now having money problem. I will give you the money back sooner. Advise me of your bank account number. Thank you, Wystan Kang.”
Needless to say, the money was never returned just as it was never returned to many others–so far the highest amount is 10 million KRW for a couple followed by 9 million KRW and 5 million KRW. Lourenco says he’s sticking around for a few more years but others may be leaving. “I’m not going anywhere but I think the prosecutor and even Wystan himself think people are leaving so it will just go away,” he said.
Safee Ullah, a 31-year-old from Pakistan and a PhD candidate at Kaist, will not be leaving anytime soon and is not giving up the fight. “We are taking this into our own hands,” said Ullah. In August of 2011, Ullah and his wife were scammed out of 1.9 million KRW by Kang. Since then he’s been frustrated and baffled by the Korean legal system and its handling of the case. “The police, the prosecutors, they don’t give us any information,” said Ullah. “I’ve called different offices more than 50 times and they either can’t explain anything, don’t know anything or hang up on me–they shut me off a couple of times,” he continued. He added that the different offices seem to be completely out of touch: “The prosecutors won’t release information to the police so they can’t tell me anything and when you call the prosecutors they say they can’t tell me anything.” A letter Ullah received last week from the Central Prosecutors’ Office in response to his inquiry simply said the case was transferred to the Eastern Prosecutors’ Office (this confirms the “new” prosecutor mentioned above).
With rising frustration, Ullah has moved to appeal to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Human Rights Commission and the Prime Minister’s Office. “I am collecting all the necessary information and I am going to submit it to them,” said Ullah. In addition, Ullah says he can’t believe that simple facts and connections remain useless in the Korean system. “He has many of the same [bank] accounts and he has to register those with his national registration number–can’t they just match those up?” he suggested. “His email, the business registration…can’t they trace those?” Ullah asked incredulously. Ullah said that three other students at Kaist had also be scammed by Kang.
The sense of bewilderment surrounding the case is understandably widespread among the victims. One victim who wished to remain anonymous due to the continuing case (a number of people said they were told by the attorney handling the case to refrain from making statements–one said, “The lawyer said we shouldn’t run our mouths”) explained her perspective, writing:
I am leaving Korea in June and I only hope it has all been resolved then. I know there are other victims who have lost a lot more money than me but there was nothing worse than having to contact my family at one stage telling them I probably wasn’t going to make it home and I hadn’t been home since leaving Korea almost 2 years ago.
Like I said, I know there are others who are worse off but it hurt and I was very very stressed.
I have kind of come to terms with the fact that there is a chance that we maybe not get our money back..not a lot seems to be going on, particularly because he’s still at it. Let’s see..
Another individual who is currently dealing with “Joseph Kim” contacted 3WM after having wired 1,365,000 KRW to Kim’s Hana Bank account on December 22 to pay for a ticket back to the States. No ticket had been issued. He wrote:
“I’m currently dealing with Joseph Kim. I’m scheduled to fly out on Jan 22, i paid but still don’t have a ticket. I finally got him on the phone and I was promised one yesterday, and promised one today, but still nothing. I think I’m being scammed. I’m looking for some advice on how to to get my money back from him before it’s too late…”
Following that initial email last week, 3WM has stayed in contact with the individual to see what the status of the ticked was. Over the weekend things remained uncertain but then, on Monday afternoon, the individual emailed saying, “Got the ticket over the weekend! Pray that everything remains okay. Good luck to the others and keep up your good work. I’ll let you know if anything else happens.”
Quickly Safee Ullah responded to a similar message that the individual posted on the Case against Wystan Kang Facebook page saying, “He sent me confirmed tickets and then cancelled them 1 day before I was supposed to leave!”
Less than an hour later the individual responded confirming what every other victim already knew:
When I checked the flight on the internet, it said “confirmed.” Obviously, I was quite relieved, but when I called the airline to notify them about the possible scam and to confirm that I was the only one to be able to change it, they said that they couldn’t answer that yet because the flight wasn’t “ticketed” yet. in other words, not paid for….
3WM will continue to follow this case. Anyone interested in contacting
Kim Hyun-joo of the Korea Tourism Organization’s Tourism Complaint Center with information related to the case can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 02-735-0101. Be aware that she is working on other cases as well.