It is commonly said that what is good for the goose is also good for the gander. Although South Korean regulators are yet to place an outright ban on cryptocurrencies, the country has imposed relatively stringent restrictions.
But while residents are still allowed to buy and sell cryptocurrencies, regulators are barring police officers from buying digital assets. Although the move is purportedly needed to improve public trust, it could presage a broader clampdown on cryptocurrencies in the country. Meanwhile, the latest development has attracted a lot of backlash from members of the force.
Last Friday, the Korean National Police Agency released internal guidelines prohibiting officers in several investigative units from buying cryptocurrencies. Moving forward, officers in the Cyber Bureau, the Anti-corruption and Public Crime Investigation Unit, the Financial Crime Investigation Unit, and the Audit and Inspection Office cannot buy cryptocurrencies. They have also been asked to report any crypto assets that they already hold.
Although the details of the new policy are still vague, it threatened that failure to comply could attract stiff punishment. Police officers in other divisions have also been adviced to refrain from investing in digital assets.
According to the agency, the restriction was implemented to quell any controversies that may arise from officers using insider information to make investment decisions, a move that could tarnish the reputation for ethical conduct in the civil service.
The ban did not sit well with many officers, with many openly expressing their discontent with the initiative. Some officers argue that the guidelines are an infringement on their property rights. An Incheon Metropolitan Police Agency who refused to be named told media outlet Incheon Ilbo that the ban was tantamount to communist state control. Another argued that the ban could hinder police investigations of illicit activities since officers may no longer understand how the system operates or the mechanisms through which illicit activities are carried out.
Professor Park Sung-Joon, head of the Blockchain Research Center at Dongguk University, shared a similar sentiment with the police agency. According to him, the growing distrust of public officials is behind the government’s decision to ban crypto purchases by officers. However, Sung-Joon is skeptical that the government will be able to effectively ban crypto investment, even from police officers.