KOREAN officials denied President Rodrigo Duterte’s claim about the presence of a mafia in Cebu formed by their countrymen.

Consul Yong Sang Lee, police attache, said that there were some members of mafia who hid in Cebu to evade prosecution, but they were already deported back to Korea to face trial.

“There is no Korean mafia, only individual gangster,” Lee said.

Consul General Sung Yong Oh said that he hopes the issue will not “snowball” and affect the relationship between the Korea and the Philippines.

“The Korean community in Cebu is very peaceful,” he said.

For his part, Police Regional Office Central Visayas Director Noli Taliño said they support Duterte’s statement, but they are still validating it.

“We assured Korean tourists in Cebu their safety,” he said.

Lee said that there were more than 20 Korean nationals who hid in Cebu to evade prosecution from 2009 to 2013.

About five or six of these fugitives were reportedly members of crime syndicates, but they were reportedly operating on their own after they arrived in Cebu, Lee said.

Most of the fugitives were not members of a mafia, an organized group that has international connections.

“They come to Cebu to hide, not to inflict harm on Filipinos,” he said yesterday during a joint press conference with the Philippine law enforcement officials.

These fugitives were already deported. Most of their cases were estafa and physical injuries, only a few committed serious ones like murder.

Bong Hwan Cho, Cebu Korean Association president, said that his group was alarmed when the news about the mafia broke and no one asked them for clarification.

After the Korean Government appointed a police attache in Cebu in 2014, police did not record sensational crimes involving Koreans. The last one was when two Koreans were burned to death inside their car in Danao City in 2013.

Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency 7 operatives caught a Korean last September who allegedly sold drugs among his clients while pretending to be a tourist guide.

Agents of the National Bureau of Investigation 7, meanwhile, arrested four Korean nationals for allegedly running an online sex-tourism business in 2015.

Alnazib Decampong, Bureau of Immigration’s alien control officer, said they cannot stop the fugitives from entering the country because they have not commit a crime here.

He said other law enforcement agencies should monitor these criminal elements from other countries. Authorities are monitoring overstaying Koreans and fugitives in Central Visayas.

More than 25,000 Koreans are living in Cebu. Half of the population are students, while around 9,000 are permanent residents.