Ministry acquits former commander of First Army
The Ministry of National Defense yesterday backtracked on its position over allegations waged against the former commander of Korea’s First Army that eventually led him to step down, raising questions as to why the ministry hastily accepted his resignation.
“It’s true that there was no scandalous behavior [on the part of the former commander],” Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said yesterday during a press briefing.
He confirmed that former General Shin Hyun-don neither engaged in physical contact nor had a verbal brawl with bystanders last June at a highway rest area.
The ministry’s announcement yesterday came two months after Shin resigned from his post amid allegations that he and his bodyguards were involved a physical scuffle with bystanders on June 19 at a highway rest area. According to previous reports, Shin was heavily intoxicated and had to be carried away by his aides.
One report also stated that he was missing one of his Army boots, only adding to public mistrust of the military, which was rocked earlier this year by a string of abuse scandals, including the death of a young conscript following weeks of systematic violence at the hands of his superiors.
Shin was also accused of having left his post in June without properly reporting to his commanders. At the time, the military was maintaining special readiness postures because President Park Geun-hye was out of the country on a tour around Central Asia.
In the face of growing accusations and finger-pointing, the general tendered his resignation to the Defense Ministry on Sept. 2 and retired, putting an end to his 35-year military career.
In announcing his retirement, the Defense Ministry acknowledged the military veteran had misbehaved and violated ethical conduct as a four-star general. The ministry’s announcement was seen at the time as its acknowledgement of the allegations waged against Shin.
However, later in its internal audit, conducted on Sept. 11 and 12, the military determined that there had been no wrongdoing on Shin’s part, according to ministry sources.
The military also discovered that Shin had reported his leave in advance to the Army headquarters and disclosed his plans to give a lecture on national security to students at Cheongju High School in North Chungcheong, his alma mater.
The revelations have raised questions over the military’s seemingly impetuous decision to accept Shin’s resignation and its silence until yesterday on the results of the audit. The Defense Ministry’s announcement yesterday came on the same day the JoongAng Ilbo reported on the ministry’s audit.
Some observers have speculated that the military’s hasty decision to let Shin go were part of its efforts to contain fallout from the scandal, which added to its tarnished image amid the publicized string of abuse cases.
“It is true that I had some shots of soju with high school staff and alumni after I presented my lecture to the high school students - an event that was approved [by the ministry],” Shin said in an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo Sunday. “But I did not behave irrationally, nor was I intoxicated.”
BY KANG JIN-KYU [firstname.lastname@example.org]