Netflix’s crime drama Narco-Saints is one of the trending shows on the platform, ranking in the top 10 in many regions. It chronicles a plot to take down a drug dealer named Jeon Yo-hwan, who masquerades as a pastor. The veneer of religious service hides a ruthless man capable of committing the worst crimes to protect his business.
Rather than send a skilled operative to take down Jeon’s drug business, authorities recruit an ordinary man named Kang In-gu to work undercover for the National Intelligence Service. Kang, a businessman, finds himself in the belly of the beast, where one mistake could cost him his life.
Jean Yo-Hwan is based on real-life Korean drug dealer Jo Bong-haeng
Narco-Saints has several real-life inspirations, including Jean Yo Hwan, who’s based on convicted Korean drug-dealer Jo Bong-haeng.
According to The Korea Times, Jo fled South Korea in 1994 after authorities placed him on the wanted list for fraud. He escaped to Suriname, where he set up a lucrative drug smuggling operation.
Jo sourced drugs from Latin American cartels and used drug mules to transport the drugs to Europe. The outlet reported that Jo smuggled cocaine worth $140 million from 2004 to 2005.
The smuggling operation targeted vulnerable and desperate people like the unemployed to transport the drugs. The drug mules received 4-5 million won for each successful trip.
Authorities intercepted some mules before the drugs reached the market but couldn’t prevent a suspected 48.5 kilograms of cocaine from hitting the streets.
Jo was arrested in 2009 in Brazil and extradited to South Korea, where he faced drug-related charges. Prosecutors reportedly said:
“Cho established a drug trafficking network in Suriname in cahoots with Latin America’s largest drug cartel in the 1990s, while hiring cash-strapped people to sneak drugs into Europe.”
A Korean court sentenced Jo to ten years in prison and fined him 100 million won. Jo spent five years at Haenam Prison before authorities suspended his sentence to allow him to seek assistance for failing health.
Jo, 64, died in April 2016 at a university hospital in Gwangju due to hypertension and heart failure.