Corruption out of control
A retired lieutenant colonel was charged with pocketing more than 610 million won ($562,834) from a company to ensure that the Navy would by its parts for the Tongyeong rescue ship and the Sohae mine sweeper. Prosecutors were dumbfounded by the audacious way the officer surnamed Choi committed corruption. He spent 280 million won with a check card issued by the company. He received bank accounts with large sums of money in the names of his wife, children and acquaintances. He cajoled his former boss, a retired colonel identified as Oh, into being an accomplice in forging documents to help the company win the Navy’s multi-million-dollar project. The two were in charge of selecting suppliers for advanced gear for the Tongyeong, a 3,500-ton salvage ship, at the Defense Acquisition Program Administration.
The supplies were all key parts to the Tongyeong and Sohae ships. Tongyeong, the country’s first self-made next-generation rescue and salvage ship was commissioned after the sinking of the Cheonan warship in 2010. The procured part was a hydraulic hoist for the Tongyeong and deep-sea sonar system for the Sohae, a mine-hunting vessel. The two parts are both key to the functioning of the vessel. The company’s sonar system cost 63.1 billion won, but did not meet procurement qualifications. The two altered documents to make the company’s system look favorable and win approval from Navy authorities. Navy Chief of Staff Hwang Ki-chul was in charge of selecting the shoddy sonar system when he worked as the chief of the Naval Ships Program Department. The entire process - from selection to supervision - was botched.
Prosecutors are investigating whether others were involved in the corruption. Those found guilty should be punished regardless of their rank. Corruption in defense and weapons procurement is a serious offense as it can jeopardize the lives of the people. China concluded that corruption in its Navy led to its defeat in the Sino-Japanese war 120 years ago. The Chinese fleets were mightier than Japan’s but they lost because the warships did not function well due to corruption in parts supplies.
Collusion and corruption in defense procurement cannot be rooted out through investigations and punishments in the aftermath. The long-standing customs of retired officers acting as lobbyists for arms dealers must be eradicated. Companies found to have engaged in corrupt practices should be excluded from further deals and fines and penalties must be increased. Supervision must be strengthened to leave no room for fabricating documents.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 6, Page 34