South Korea has been tightening its regulatory regime towards crypto exchanges, but it seems that some citizens are still engaging in illegal transactions. According to local sources, South Koreans transacted 5.6 trillion Korean won ($4.3 billion) through illegal crypto exchanges in 2022, a significant increase from the previous year. The Korea Customs Service provided the numbers, indicating that the overall amount of funds caught in economic crimes increased from 3.2 trillion won ($2.5 billion) in 2021 to 8.2 trillion won ($6.2 billion) last year.
Out of all the illicit money traffic captured by officers, crypto transactions comprised almost 70%. However, the total amount of intercepted digital assets ($4.3 billion) only accrues for 15 transactions. These transactions were aimed at purchasing foreign virtual assets with the intention of selling them in the country later. This is because the South Korean regulatory regime isolates the local market and makes the prices of foreign crypto higher for customers.
The government has been cracking down on illegal crypto exchanges since 2017, when the Foreign Exchange Transactions Act required entities involved in crypto transactions to get regulatory approval from the Financial Services Commission. Hence, the attempts to participate in the global crypto trade, from foreign players coming to the Korean market or domestic investors seeking a better exchange course abroad, are labeled “illegal.”
In August 2022, the Korea Financial Intelligence Unit took action against 16 foreign-based crypto firms, including KuCoin, Poloniex, and Phemex. All 16 exchanges have purportedly engaged in business activities targeting domestic consumers by offering Korean-language websites, running promotional events targeting Korean consumers, and providing credit card payment options for cryptocurrency purchases. These activities all fall under the Financial Transactions Report Act.
The Korean customs also reported detaining 16 individuals involved in illegal foreign exchange transactions connected to crypto assets worth roughly $2 billion. These cases demonstrate the government’s determination to crack down on illegal crypto transactions and to promote a safe and regulated crypto market.
However, some critics argue that the South Korean government’s regulatory regime is too strict, which has led to the country missing out on potential economic benefits. They suggest that a more balanced approach should be taken to ensure that the country can benefit from the growing crypto market while still maintaining a safe and regulated environment. Regardless, it is clear that illegal crypto exchanges are still a significant issue in South Korea, and the government will continue to take action to address this problem.