Chief of Staff wanted in Navy procurement case

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Chief of Staff wanted in Navy procurement case

The Board of Audit and Inspection said on Wednesday that it had notified the Ministry of National Defense to consider dismissing the Navy’s chief of staff to take responsibility for the acquisition of faulty parts for the Tongyeong, the problematic rescue and salvage ship.

In its meeting, the board announced the preliminary results of its investigation into the Tongyeong rescue ship and Sohae mine sweeper. The probe was conducted between May and July after allegations surfaced regarding irregularities by military officials in the process of acquiring parts for the Navy.

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, and the Board of Audit determined he was negligent in the review process when signing the contracts.

The 3,500-ton Tongyeong was completed in 2012 at a cost of 159 billion won ($143 million), but has been embroiled in controversy since due to faulty parts impairing its deployment. Military officials and the ship’s builder, meanwhile, have only pointed fingers at each other.

The Navy refused to accept the delivery of Tongyeong from its builder, Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering, complaining that the vessel’s equipment didn’t work properly.

Daewoo claimed the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) provided it with substandard hull-mounted sonar (HMS) systems and remotely operated underwater vehicles, commonly known as ROVs.

Prosecutors launched an investigation, which later determined that military officials had received bribes for the faulty parts. This includes a former Navy official who is suspected of receiving up to 610 million won in bribes from the supplier.

Prosecutors have so far indicted nine individuals linked to the acquisition of faulty parts. The board has also requested further investigation into two of these officials for allegedly forging official documents. The Defense Ministry is expected to conduct a thorough review of the case before making a decision on Hwang.

The Navy failed to deploy the Tongyeong for rescue operations after the Sewol ferry disaster because it had not accepted the vessel’s delivery.

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




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