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Arrest made in Korea for murder of Korean tourist found in plastic barrel in Thailand

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Thai police and divers on Saturday retrieve the body of a Korean tourist suspected to have been hidden in a black plastic barrel that had been submerged in a reservoir in Pattaya, Thailand, in a screen capture from Thai news media. [JOONGANG ILBO]
Thai police and divers on Saturday retrieve the body of a Korean tourist suspected to have been hidden in a black plastic barrel that had been submerged in a reservoir in Pattaya, Thailand, in a screen capture from Thai news media. [JOONGANG ILBO]

A suspect alleged to have murdered a Korean tourist in Thailand was apprehended by police in North Jeolla, said Gyeongnam Provincial Police Agency on Monday.

The arrested individual surnamed Lee, a man in his 20s, was one of three suspects accused of kidnapping and murdering a 34-year-old Korean man in Pattaya, Thailand, earlier this month.

Police arrested him at his residence in North Jeolla at 7:46 p.m. on Sunday after discovering that he had returned to Korea on Thursday. He was then transported to the Gyeongnam Provincial Police Station in South Gyeongsang upon his arrest.

Lee is currently denying his involvement in the crime, saying he only stayed with two other suspects but did not collude with them. 

According to the JoongAng Ilbo’s report on Monday, the two other suspected accomplices — Lee, aged 34, and Kim, aged 39 — fled to Cambodia and Myanmar, respectively.

On Saturday, Thai police discovered the body of the Korean tourist inside a cement-filled black plastic barrel in a reservoir in Pattaya, Thailand.

Thai media reported on Monday that the body was fingerless, meaning the victim’s 10 fingers were amputated. Thai state-run broadcaster PBS said this could be a “sign of torture” or “intentional manipulation to confuse the victim’s identity.”

The victim entered Thailand on April 30. The local police located a witness who claimed to have seen him on May 2 at a nightclub in Bangkok.

According to police, CCTV footage revealed that the victim was escorted by two Korean men in a rental car and later boarded a pickup truck in Pattaya around 2 a.m. on May 3. Investigators also determined that the suspects had rented accommodation near the Mabprachan reservoir in Pattaya.

On the evening of May 4, the pickup truck was reportedly observed leaving their lodging with a black object loaded in the vehicle’s cargo bed around 9 p.m. The footage indicated that they spent approximately an hour near the reservoir.

The missing report was made after the victim’s mother received a blackmail call on May 7 from an unidentified individual demanding a ransom of 3 million Thai baht ($83,000), equivalent to about 112 million won. The caller also threatened to kill her son and harvest his organs if the ransom was not paid.
 
The mother immediately notified the Korean Embassy in Thailand, which then sought cooperation with Thai authorities.

Subsequently, authorities, along with divers, located the victim’s body in the barrel in the reservoir.

Law enforcement confirmed that individuals associated with the truck had purchased the barrel and rope from a local store.

Authorities stated that “details cannot be shared as the investigation is ongoing.”

BY LEE SOO-JUNG [lee.soojung1@joongang.co.kr]

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