Contractor held for bilking Navy on Lynx repairs

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Contractor held for bilking Navy on Lynx repairs

A subcontractor for the Navy in charge of maintaining Lynx helicopters, a key component of South Korea’s anti-submarine operations, was arrested for making undue profit by embezzling and barely maintaining the helicopters over the past five years, according to the prosecution yesterday.

The arrest came three months after two Lynx-related accidents, of which at least one was caused by malfunctioning equipment.

The Busan District Prosecutors’ Office said it arrested the head of the Busan-based subcontracting company, whom it identified by the surname Kang, yesterday on a charge of making 1.4 billion won ($1.15 million) in undue profit from the supposed maintenance of the choppers.

Prosecutors allege that Kang didn’t replace any components in the helicopters for the past five years - while telling the Navy he did - and that he charged the Navy’s logistics office a total of 1.432 billion won.

The prosecution said Kang lied on 42 occasions between June 2006 and May 2010 about the maintenance of radar in the helicopters and P-3C Orions, an anti-submarine surveillance aircraft.

Kang is also charged with embezzling 190 million won from his company and using the funds for personal expenses. The prosecution said he transferred the money from his company’s accounts to his personal bank account in batches between January 2008 and January 2010, fabricating documents to make the transfers look like salary payments for his employees.

“We are investigating this in cooperation with the Navy to see if any military personnel are involved, and whether the irresponsible maintenance is related to the crashes of Lynx aircraft,” a prosecution official was quoted as saying by Munhwa Ilbo, which broke the story.

On April 15, a Lynx crashed into the southwestern sea off Jin Island killing all four of its pilots. Another Lynx chopper made an emergency landing in the sea near Socheong Island off the west coast on April 17. All three pilots were rescued.

The Navy wrapped up an investigation on July 12 and said a pilot’s vertigo was responsible for the first accident and a defective radio altimeter for the second.

A Navy spokesman did not confirm whether Kang is in charge of maintenance for all of Korea’s 25 Lynx helicopters.

Critics say this is the latest embarrassment for the Navy, which has taken heat for lax security checks, including an improper response to the Cheonan sinking and the misuse of a naval boat for personal purposes by Navy officers earlier this month, which resulted in two deaths.

By Moon Gwang-lip []
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