4 Men Sentenced to Jail for Smuggling 200 Fake Experts Into Vietnam

The masterminds behind the racket developed a sophisticated operation that faked documents in order to identify their clients as ‘experts’ to bypass COVID restrictions.
Koh Ewe
The two South Koreans who masterminded the illegal immigration operation were sentenced to 10 years in jail on Wednesday by a court in Da Nang, central Vietnam.
The two South Koreans who masterminded the illegal immigration operation were sentenced to 10 years in jail on Wednesday by a court in Da Nang, central Vietnam. Photo: STR / AFP

Four South Koreans were sentenced to jail for “organizing illegal entry” into Vietnam on Wednesday for facilitating an illegal smuggling operation that flew 189 South Koreans into the country under false official documents.

Lee Kwan Yuong, the alleged leader of the group, and his right-hand man, Seo Yuong Jin, were sentenced to 10 years by a Vietnamese court. Song Hong Sup, a 51-year-old South Korean who was arrested in July 2021 alongside Lee and Seo, received nine years in prison. A fourth South Korean man, Kim Chang Gi, was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison.


Meanwhile, 15 Vietnamese nationals were also jailed for their involvement in the elaborate scheme. In addition, five others—including one South Korean—were given suspended sentences and will instead serve a period of probation. 

Authorities say the men would falsify the labor statuses of their clients, labeling them as “experts,” in order to bypass Vietnam’s tough COVID immigration restrictions.

Working with dozens of local businesses to falsify official immigration documents, the smugglers brought four groups of South Koreans into Da Nang, a coastal city in central Vietnam, between December 2020 and March 2021. They earned around $46,000 from the illicit operation, local media reported

The racket was designed as a workaround for Vietnam’s strict COVID policies that denied entry to most foreigners to curb the spread of the virus. Under the country’s COVID rules, in place from March 2020 to 2022, only those with specific designations—such as experts, diplomats, business managers, and investors—were allowed into the country.

Before his arrest, Lee was also serving as the vice president of the Association of South Korean People in central Vietnam. The illicit scheme started to fall apart in April 2021 when Vietnamese authorities completed an administrative inspection of apartments in Da Nang, according to local reports. The police discovered 14 South Korean residents who were not working as “experts,” contradicting the designations labeled on their visa applications.

In reality, the South Koreans were in the country for other purposes, such as tourism, opening restaurants, and massage services, local media reported. The Korean residents eventually admitted to police they had entered Vietnam by paying a broker.

According to police, Song would advertise their services on the internet and retrieve information from South Korean applicants who wished to enter the country. Later, Seo would prepare visa applications for the clients, requesting directors from a range of local Vietnamese companies to endorse them as experts on official documents before flying them into the country. 


Nguyen Khac Giang, a Vietnamese political researcher and visiting fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, a research center on socio-political and economic trends in the region, told VICE World News that the case reflects “a wider trend of South Koreans moving to Vietnam.”

He says more Koreans have migrated to Vietnam over the last decade, and now form one of the largest foreign populations in the country. 

“​​This comes as a direct result of increasing Korean investment into the country, particularly Samsung but also other companies too,” he said.

“When seeking business opportunities abroad, people might think about local connections, the favorable environment, the cultural similarities, labor market, and political stability—all of which are offered in Vietnam for South Koreans.”

South Korea is Vietnam's top foreign investor, boasting an accumulated registered capital of $78.5 billion in 2021 across sectors such as manufacturing, real estate, and retail. In December last year, the two countries signed a “comprehensive strategic partnership,” while South Korean conglomerates—including Samsung, Vietnam’s single largest foreign investor—announced plans to pour billions in additional investment

“As a result of the recent diplomatic upgrade, I think this trend will only grow, along with the trend of Vietnamese seeking opportunities in South Korea too,” Giang said.

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