POLICE kidnapped and murdered a South Korean businessman, then led his wife to believe he was alive for months to extort money from her, authorities said Wednesday.
Jee Ick-Joo disappeared from his home in Angeles City, Pampanga in October last year, and his wife initially paid a ransom of P5 million ($100,000), Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesman Sr. Supt. Dionardo Carlos told AFP.
However, the man was strangled to death and burned to ashes in a crematorium on the day he was abducted, the South Korean foreign ministry said, citing a Philippine government report.
The crematorium was owned by a former police officer, the foreign ministry said.
The South Korean government identified the man only by his surname and said he was in his 50s. The businessman, who had been working in the Philippines since 2008, was employed by manpower company.
South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se demanded answers after receiving a phone call from Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. to inform him of the murder.
“Minister Yun, expressing grave shock over the implication of Philippine police officers in the case, asked that the Philippine government get to the bottom of the case and bring those responsible to justice,” a foreign ministry spokesman said.
Senior Police Officer 3 Ricky Santa Isabel, one of the officers accused of going to Jee’s house and abducting him, surrendered this week to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), according to Carlos.
Two other officers who went with him to the house were under investigation. A retired police officer was also believed to be involved but had fled to Canada, Carlos said.
The Department of Justice said Santa Isabel has been placed in a lookout bulletin to alert authorities in case he flees the country.
All three accused officers were from the Anti-Illegal Drugs Group based at PNP headquarters in Camp Crame, Carlos said.
He said Santa Isabel and the other two officers went to Jee’s house on the pretext of a drug raid.
The abductors demanded from Jee’s wife a ransom of P8 million on October 30, 12 days after he was killed, according to a newspaper report. It said that she paid P5 million, but the kidnappers then demanded another P4.5 million and continued to say he was alive.
The case has drawn criticism from some lawmakers and media as an example of corrupt policemen expanding their illegal activities after being given freedoms by President Rodrigo Duterte to fight his war on drugs.
Duterte has encouraged police to kill drug traffickers and addicts who resist arrest, and vowed to shield them from prosecution.
More than 6,000 people have died in Duterte’s drug war since he took office in the middle of last year.
Carlos insisted to AFP the abduction of Jee was not related to Duterte’s drug war, saying the problem of kidnappings for ransom by corrupt police had existed for a long time.
“It turned out it was an old modus operandi where bad cops claim there is a drug raid and turn it into a kidnap for ransom,” Carlos said.
The director of the PNP Anti-Illegal Drugs Group however claimed Santa Isabel could have been financed by a group out to discredit the drug war.
“He might be well-funded and we might be into a situation in which there are financiers, such as those against the fight against drugs,” Sr. Supt. Albert Ignatius Ferro told reporters in Camp Crame on Wednesday.
The PNP chief, Director General Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa, also brought up the possibility that Santa Isabel had a “padrino” or protector, possibly one of the so-called “narco-generals” identified by President Duterte in August last year.
De la Rosa said the protector worked out Santa Isabel’s assignment to the anti-drug unit at the PNP headquarters last July. Santa Isabel was previously detailed with the anti-illegal drug units of the Quezon City, Southern and Northern Police Districts.
with AFP and ANTHONY VARGAS