The Korea Institute of Criminology on Monday painted a grim picture of organized crime here based on an in-depth survey of convicted Mafiosi. The institute sent questionnaires to 109 imprisoned gang members and selected 29 for further interview. The results show that while movies often portray crime syndicates as a lucrative workplace, the luxurious lifestyle has disappeared for all but a few bosses and the much-vaunted loyalty of gang members has practically disappeared.
◆ Scraping a dishonest living
The research shows crime syndicates involved in on average 3.9 industries like gambling and running bars and clubs. Among syndicates, 30 percent earn W100-500 million (US$1=W940.10) a year, and 18.9 percent earn over W1 billion. Among gang members, the biggest group of 29.2 percent claimed they earned W1-3 million a month, closely followed by those saying they made W3-5 million (28.1 percent) and W5-10 million (22.5 percent). But in reality, most ordinary thugs barely scrape a living in the underworld. Gangs are pyramid organizations, and only one in hundreds rises to the top. The rest live on the edge of poverty. The KIC quotes one former gangster as saying, “I didn’t even have gas money” while others complained they lacked the cash to go out.
Research reveals that retaliation is now rare even if gang members defect, partly because gangs know how hard the life of a rank-and-file shyster can be. Park Gyung-rae, a researcher involved in the project, says some gangsters exaggerate their earnings out of pride. “In reality, most of them live poorly,” he adds. In one case, a gangster who joined a syndicate at 17 remained flat broke till leaving at the age of 32.
◆ Money before loyalty
Movies often depict gangsters as committed to an overblown honor code, but gangsters say that is history. No boss today would hand over a bar he controls to a loyal member for free, and bosses who fail to rake in the money get no respect, gangsters say. Senior gangsters charge interest when they lend money to the rank and file, and some bosses commit suicide due to poverty. A member of an old-style gang waxed nostalgic about the past, when hoods followed orders without question. “Young gangsters these days don’t even bow to their seniors if they are poor,” he lamented. The generation gap apparently also afflicts the underworld. “Even gangsters worry about how spoiled young people are these days,” the old-timer is quoted as saying.
◆ Job satisfaction
However, job satisfaction among gangsters was higher than in the police, according to the study. Despite rampant disloyalty and paltry earnings, 12.3 percent of crime syndicate members said they were satisfied with their life, compared to only 9.5 percent of police in a 2004 survey. The KIC attributes this to lingering illusions about the lifestyle of a gangster nourished by films.
In other findings, the proportion of bosses and underbosses who had connections with the judiciary and business circles was high at 31.8 percent and 45.5 percent. Some 22.7 percent of syndicate leaders had a network of political connections, either for the sake of dodging the wages of sin or to make money through their connections.
◆ Symbiotic relationships
The KIC says crime syndicates are no longer “parasites” who take other people’s money but “partners” who run legitimate business by forming ties with influential figures. But while some say the actual crime committed by organized crime is on the wane, others warn that it is simply more subtle and thus even more damaging to society, the KIC reports.
Chosun.com 30 January 2007