Extortionist of vendors
Who said traditional Korean markets are free from violence? Behind the facade of manicured peace, extortionists have thrived at the expense of vendors on the street.
Police rounded up 91 good-for-nothing gadflies who raked in $3 million from vendors at the West Gate Market in Seoul over the past seven years. They took money under the pretext of renting fees for space and handcarts.
The so-called association of vendors blackmailed sellers for cleaning and toilet fees. They were predatory and indiscriminate in collecting money from the poor traders who rely on the open market for their livelihood.
The guards collected toll fees and rented street space. Managers of the market have habitually extorted money in the name of holding promotional festivals and marketing events. Vendors have become helpless targets as they are selling products on the street. They collected hush money from rice-cake merchants in return for ignoring unlawful additions to their shops. The helpless sellers have not reported the unruly practices out of fear of retaliation. Puzzling is why such criminal cases have been kept secret for such a long time. Is it the collusion of law enforcement authorities, district ward officials and gangsters? Rounding up the protectors of these extortionists is also necessary.
The West Gate Market has 300,000 daily visitors, including 7,000 foreigners. Swindlers and bullies have fattened their pockets by taking money from merchants and vendors. Whistleblowers must be protected from revenge. Police need to continue their vigilance against the extortionary practices.
The same predatory practices might be a fact of life at the other 1,517 markets, whose survival is threatened by franchise chains. Police must initiate a crackdown on blaggers at all traditional markets. Cutting the cancerous food chain is long overdue.