Wealthy sons face draft oversight

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Wealthy sons face draft oversight

Favoritism toward sons of wealthy and well-connected families in Korea’s military conscription program has been a long-standing issue for Korea’s defense community. Yesterday, the Military Manpower Administration, which oversees Korea’s draft, announced steps to supervise more closely the procedures for processing those young men and celebrities, athletes and other high-profile potential draftees.

Under provisions of the new law, extra scrutiny will be given to about 111,000 eligible young men: 47,000 sons of senior officials and others in their direct families, 30,000 sons of families with incomes of more than 500 million won ($465,000), about 2,000 pop stars and other celebrities and 32,000 athletes.

The manpower administration said it would follow the men from their 18th birthday, when they are draft-eligible, through their entry onto two years of mandatory military service and then their placement in the army reserve.

Officials said that their monitoring would be eased by the law’s permission for them to obtain personal records on the young men from the National Tax Service, the Court Administration Office, entertainment and sports associations and other related organizations.

Anybody caught leaking the information would face a maximum three-year jail sentence or a fine up to 10 million won.

A military official said the new law is a measure to “increase the transparency and fairness of the military service process.”

Recently, several celebrities serving in the military have come under fire for allegedly receiving special treatment while in uniform. In June, two singers, Sangchu and Se7en, were caught drinking and patronizing massage parlors on duty.

Earlier this year, Jung Ji-hoon, better known as Rain, made headlines for not wearing his military beret on duty and meeting frequently with his girlfriend.

The Ministry of National Defense responded to the uproar by shutting down the army’s “celebrity unit” in July. Seven celebrity soldiers were sent to the stockade for violating the military code of conduct by drinking and patronizing massage parlors. The ministry also closed the controversial Defense Media Agency, or the entertainment unit of the military, which has used celebrity soldiers to promote the army since 1997.

As a move to improve the condition of all soldiers, the Defense Ministry is lobbying to raise the salaries of soldiers by 15 percent next year, to 134,600 per month.

The ministry yesterday submitted to the National Assembly a budget request for 35.8 trillion won in the next fiscal year, a 4.2 percent increase over its current spending level.

As one of her campaign promises, President Park Geun-hye promised to double soldiers’ pay for their two-year mandatory military service.

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]
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