Bribery case probed over Navy ship

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Bribery case probed over Navy ship

The prosecution’s investigation into suspected corruption linked to a costly yet botched Navy procurement project expanded yesterday as investigators found more evidence implicating a retired captain.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said yesterday that an arms lobbyist, the former Navy captain, was suspected of bribing key officials responsible for obtaining equipment for the Tongyeong salvage and rescue ship. Prosecutors began looking into the bank accounts of the lobbyist yesterday.

The prosecution already arrested two other retired military officials on Monday on charges of forging official documents linked to the expensive project. According to the prosecutors, another retired colonel, identified only as Oh, was arrested, along with a retired lieutenant colonel, Choi.

Oh was the project manager tasked to select suppliers for the ship’s advanced gear. The prosecution said it will seek warrants to detain Oh and Choi for further questioning.

Investigators from the prosecution also raided the Defense Acquisition Program Administration, which provided the Tongyeong’s equipment, on Monday and secured records related to the procurement.

The prosecution said they had discovered that performance evaluation outcomes conducted by DAPA at the end of 2009 to select the hull-mounted sonar systems for four ships, including the Tongyeong, were forged.

The Tongyeong project cost 159 billion won ($150.7 million) and the project to build three minehunters for it cost 297.3 billion won.

The prosecution said the Navy demanded sonar systems that can cover a large area, but Oh and Choi forged test outcomes for the Hackenco sonar system, which had a substandard performance, in order to award the contract to the U.S. manufacturer.

According to the prosecutors, Hackenco sold the sonar systems at a price tag of 4.1 billion won each in 2011. The system’s market price, however, only cost about 200 million won and it was a model similar to ones manufactured in the 1970s.

“We obtained testimonies that the lobbyist contacted Oh and other Navy officers frequently,” a prosecution source said.

The lobbyist’s home and office were also raided.

In an attempt to upgrade the country’s aging rescue ships, the Navy commissioned an ambitious project to build a next-generation rescue and salvage ship. The 3,500-ton Tongyeong was completed in 2012.

The Navy, however, refused to accept the delivery of the ship from its builder, Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering, complaining that its equipment didn’t work properly. Daewoo blamed DAPA.

The investigation came after the nation began wondering about the whereabouts of the ship, which was missing from the deadly Sewol ferry sinking’s rescue operation in April. Media later reported that the ship had never left Daewoo’s Okpo Shipyard in Geoje, South Gyeongsang.

The Board of Audit and Inspection conducted a special audit and concluded that there was corruption involving the supply process for key equipment. The audit board asked the prosecution to launch an investigation last week.

Navy Chief of Staff Hwang Ki-chul, who was in charge of selecting the shoddy sonar system when he worked as the chief of the Naval Ships Program Department, was questioned by the Board of Audit and Inspection earlier this month. The audit agency ruled him out from a further probe, finding no evidence of his involvement.

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