Netflix’s Narco-Saints is on the rise with its surprising plot based on true events. The series is inspired by the life events of a real drug lord named Jo Bong Haeng who was renamed Jeon Yo Hwan and played by Hwang Jung Min on the show.
Jo is said to have created a channel of drug smuggling and supply in the 1990s while he was in Suriname. He was arrested in 2009 in a joint investigation by South Korea, Brazil and the United States.
According to reports, he worked as a ship refrigeration engineer in the 1980s and lived in Suriname for about eight years. While not much is known about his early life, he fled South Korea in 1994 after he was placed on a wanted list on fraud charges. He acquired Surinamese citizenship in 1995 and established a fish processing plant. However, as his income decreased, he set up a drug trafficking network in Suriname in cahoots with Latin America’s largest drug cartel, Cali Cartel.
Jo hired several Korean people, including house workers, college students and unemployed people, to serve as carriers to smuggle drugs disguised as gemstones. His business grew quickly and was placed on Interpol’s watch list in 2005. Law enforcement authorities planned to arrest him in 2007 and approached one of his victims for cooperation. The victim, hereby referred to as informant K, agreed to cooperate and was tasked to infiltrate the cartel as a drug dealer.
Informant K reportedly lived under the same roof as Jo’s men, and his identity was almost exposed by one of his subordinates. According to the reports back then, he was able to survive the crisis by acting quickly and screaming out loud.
When asked if he had any regrets, K reportedly said, “When I promised to cooperate with the NIS in Surinam, I thought of my wife and children a lot. I regretted thinking about what would happen to my family if I didn’t return home alive. But I went with the plan anyways as I had already come too far to go back.”
Jo made a drug deal in Sao Paulo in July of 2009 with a non-existing drug buyer planted by the NIS and was arrested by law enforcement authorities in Brazil. He was deported to South Korea and was indicted on charges of smuggling cocaine from South America into Europe using South Korean citizens as drug mules.
Jo was sentenced to 10 years in prison and a fine of 100 million won in 2011. His location is unknown as he is said to have returned to Suriname after being released from prison.
UPDATE: Drug lord Jo Bong Haeng died in South Korea 6 years ago
According to a news report on September 17th, Jo is revealed to have died at the age of 64 six years ago at a university hospital in Gwangju. “Jo died on April 19th, 2016,” said Do Chun Sung, head of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, who was in charge of the case at the time. The cause of his death was heart failure due to high blood pressure.