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A Washington state dad is pleading with Korean authorities for the return of his young son – whose noncustodial mother is wanted in the U.S. for allegedly abducting the child overseas and flouting court orders in both countries to return him.
Bryan Sung, now 7, was only 3 years old when his mother, Min Jung Cho, 42, allegedly spirited him away to her native South Korea in June 2019.
Bryan’s father Dr. Jay Sung, 43, says he won court battles in both the U.S. and overseas but remains cut off from his son, whom he has now not been able to see for more than half of the child’s life.
“Korea did nothing to protect [Bryan],” the orthodontist told Fox News Digital. “They should send the U.S. citizen back to his home, where law can be enforced, and he can be protected.”
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Jay and Bryan Sung pictured in an undated selfie prior to the child’s abduction to South Korea by his noncustodial mother. (Jay Sung)
While Sung was initially granted full custody, the judge overseeing their divorce allowed each parent to take Bryan to Korea for up to three weeks a year.
Cho took Bryan to South Korea and, on the last day of the scheduled trip, her attorney contacted Sung and said the boy would not be returned to the United States, he said.
Sung, who had no confirmation at the time of his son’s actual whereabouts, filed a missing person report in Redmond, Washington. South Korean police eventually located Bryan at his maternal grandmother’s house – but Sung says they told him the case needed to be resolved in civil court.
Sung was born in South Korea but spent much of his childhood in Ohio. He served in the South Korean military and returned to the U.S. to study dentistry at UCLA. He is now an orthodontist in Washington – and he and his son are U.S. citizens.
Cho is not, and her permanent residency was revoked after she failed to return for more than a year, Sung said.
Min Jung Cho has been wanted in Washington state on a custodial interference warrant since April 2020. She allegedly abducted her 3-year-old son Bryan to South Korea and has refused court orders to return him to his father in the United States. (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children)
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A Washington state warrant for Cho’s arrest has been in effect since April 20, 2020, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Sung filed a petition under the Hague Convention, which governs international child abductions, trafficking and adoptions in 2019, he said.
During a years-long process, the court ruled in his favor, and Cho subsequently exhausted her appeals. But she refused to hand the boy over, the father said. While Korean courts have repeatedly sided with Sung, he said the country’s law has a compliance loophole which prevents law enforcement from seizing a child by force.
Now, Sung says he is the only legal guardian recognized by either country but is helpless as Korean authorities have declined to enforce a court’s demand that the child be sent home to his dad. They even arrested Cho twice and fined her, he said – but did not return his son.
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Sung has launched a social media campaign demanding the South Korean government do more to return his son and conducted a one-man protest outside the Korean consulate in Seattle.
Dr. Jay Sung rented a billboard and conducted a one-man protest near South Korea’s consulate in Seattle demanding the return of his son, who was abducted by his estranged wife in 2019 and remains in the Asian country despite numerous court orders that he be returned to the U.S. (Jay Sung)
Sung’s plight has drawn the support of his local congresswoman, Rep. Kim Schrier, as well as the State Department and the FBI.
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The State Department for the last several years has chided South Korea for a “pattern of noncompliance” under the Convention due to the country’s law enforcement services’ performance on court-ordered returns.
“Specifically, [Republic of Korea] law enforcement authorities regularly failed to enforce return orders in abduction cases,” the State Department’s 2023 Action Report on International Child Abduction reads. “As a result of this failure, 50 percent of requests for the return of abducted children under the Convention remained unresolved for more than 12 months.”
Bryan Sung pictured in a missing person flyer from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. His father reported him missing before South Korean police located him at his maternal grandmother’s home overseas, where his noncustodial mother allegedly brought him in 2019. (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children)
However, a State Department spokesperson told Fox News Digital that while South Korean counterparts are cooperating in Bryan’s case, U.S. diplomats have raised issues with their Korean counterparts over the country’s lengthy return process.
“With regard to Dr. Sung’s case and other similar instances, we have raised this issue with Republic of Korea officials in Washington and in Seoul many times and have expressed our concern about the country’s lengthy judicial proceedings and lack of enforcement of Hague Abduction Convention return orders,” the spokesperson said.
A spokesperson for the FBI’s Seattle Office said the bureau was given jurisdiction over certain child abduction cases in the 1932 “Lindbergh Law,” also known as the Federal Kidnapping Act, following the abduction of famed aviator Charles Lindburgh’s then-2-year-old son.
“Child kidnapping cases can take a great deal of time and also require coordination with other law enforcement agencies, both in and outside the U.S., and with our legat offices, which further the FBI mission overseas,” she said.
The average time to resolve a child abduction in South Korea is just under three years, according to the State Department’s Action Report.
If he is not returned by April, Bryan will have been gone for five years. Even South Korean lawmakers have held hearings on the issue and determined that their system is flawed and begun drafting reforms, Sung said. Korean officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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While the case is reminiscent of the 2000 operation to return Cuban shipwreck survivor Elian Gonzalez to his father, Sung disputed the idea that Korean police would need to send in a SWAT team to rescue his son.
FILE – Elian Gonzalez is held in a closet by Donato Dalrymple, one of the two men who rescued the boy from the ocean, right, as government officials search the home of Lazaro Gonzalez for the young boy, in Miami, Florida, April 22, 2000. Gonzalez survived the shipwreck that killed his mother in 1999 and washed up in Florida. Although he had family in Miami, his father wanted him returned to Cuba, and U.S. authorities took him in dramatic fashion after his American relatives exhausted all legal efforts to keep him here. (AP Newsroom)
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“If that’s really, really needed and that’s the only way to return the child, I’m not against it,” he told Fox News Digital. “But at the same time, using ‘force’ on the child doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to do it in a very traumatic way. Sometimes force is needed: If the child doesn’t want to go to school, sometimes you have to use force to put them in the car.”
Michael Ruiz is a reporter for Fox News Digital. Story tips can be sent to [email protected] and on Twitter: @mikerreports