Philippine police kidnapped and murdered a South Korean businessman, then led his wife to believe he was alive for months to extort money from her, authorities said Wednesday.
The killing is the latest in a long series of criminal acts by the Philippine police force, regarded as one of the nation's most corrupt institutions, and has fuelled concerns about its role enforcing President Rodrigo Duterte's deadly crime war.
The man disappeared from his home in the northern city of Angeles in October last year, and his wife initially paid a ransom of five million pesos ($100,000), national police spokesman Dionardo Carlos told AFP.
Fake drug raid
However, the man was strangled to death and burned to ashes in a crematorium on the day he was abducted, the South Korean foreign ministry said, citing a Philippine government report.
The crematorium was owned by a former police officer, the foreign ministry said.
The South Korean government identified the man only by his surname of Ji and said he was in his 50s. Philippine media said he was a businessman who had been living in the Philippines since 2008 and had been working for a manpower company.
South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se demanded answers after receiving a phone call from Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay to inform him of the murder.
"Minister Yun, expressing grave shock over the implication of Philippine police officers in the case, asked that the Philippine government get to the bottom of the case and bring those responsible to justice," a foreign ministry spokesman said.
Ricky Santa Isabel, one of the officers accused of going to Ji's house and abducting him, surrendered this week, according to Carlos, the police spokesman.
He said another two officers who went with him to the house, as well as their superior, were under investigation.
All four accused officers were from the Anti-Illegal Drugs Group based at national police headquarters in Manila, according to Carlos.
He said a retired police officer was also believed to be involved but had fled to Canada, and that there were South Korean accomplices. Carlos did not elaborate on the identities or actions of the South Korean suspects.
Santa Isabel and his two colleagues went to Ji's house on the pretext of a drug raid, according to Carlos.
The abductors demanded from Ji's wife a ransom of eight million pesos on October 30, 12 days after he was killed, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper, which first reported the news.
It said that she paid five million pesos ($100,000), but the kidnappers then demanded another 4.5 million pesos and continued to say he was alive.
The case has drawn criticism from some lawmakers and media in the Philippines as an example of corrupt policemen expanding their illegal activities after being given freedoms by Duterte to prosecute his war on drugs.
Duterte has encouraged police to kill drug traffickers and addicts, and vowed to shield them from prosecution.
Nearly 6,000 people have died in Duterte's drug war since he took office in the middle of last year.
Carlos insisted to AFP the abduction of Ji was not related to Duterte's drug war, saying the problem of kidnappings for ransom by corrupt police had existed for a long time.
At least 167 policemen are under investigation for being involved in various money-making rackets, some of them under the cover of the drug war, Metro Manila police chief Oscar Albayalde told reporters.
The police force was among the most corrupt national agencies, according to a 2015 report from the national ombudsman.
A 2013 survey by anti-graft watchdog Transparency International also found that the police force was perceived by Filipinos to be the Philippines' most corrupt institution.