In major shakeup, 2 Navy vice-admirals sackedTwo active-duty three-star vice admirals of the Navy were removed from their posts as of Thursday, a source from the National Defense Ministry told the JoongAng Ilbo.
The dismissals appeared to signal a major reshuffle of the Navy’s leadership after its top brass was tainted by allegations of corruption linked to defense procurement projects and conduct unbecoming.
According to the Navy, one of the dismissed vice admirals is Koo Ok-hyoe, superintendent of the Korea Naval Academy. No transgression was identified and the Navy refused to say whether the dismissal was honorable or not.
The other dismissed vice admiral’s name was not identified and he was referred to the disciplinary committee on Wednesday for conduct unbecoming an officer. He was accused of having forced female caddies on a golf course to act like his own personal dancing girls, requiring them to dance and sing whenever he or his golf companions scored a birdie.
The three-star vice admiral indulged in such inappropriate conduct in over 10 incidents from last November to early this month, according to the Navy investigation.
With the dismissals, two of the five top posts held by vice admirals in the Navy were left vacant. The five positions are head of the Naval Academy, vice chief of staff, commander of operations, director at the Joint Chiefs of Staff and head of the Education and Training Command.
According to the Navy, the military decided to remove the unnamed vice admiral even before he faces the disciplinary committee. It also did not disclose his former position.
“We had not held the disciplinary hearing yet, but we decided that he cannot exercise his authority properly because he’s been referred to the committee,” a source from the Ministry of National Defense told the JoongAng Ilbo. “His unit will be commanded by his deputy until the next reshuffle.”
Another Defense Ministry official said dismissal from top posts for a vice admiral means automatic discharge from the service. “Because the disciplinary procedure is currently ongoing, we removed him from the post for now.”
The Navy said Wednesday that three vice admirals, including the unnamed and dismissed officer, were referred to the disciplinary committee over the alleged incidents at the military country club.
One of the vice admirals was accused of telling a caddie to “shake your butt just like I did,” when she refused to dance.
“Although he strongly rejected the charge, we have a strong case based on our investigation with the caddies,” a Navy official said. “So we referred him to the disciplinary committee.”
The conduct took place at a military-owned country club and another vice admiral in charge of managing the facility was referred to the disciplinary committee for having failed to report the incidents to the upper chain of command.
The Navy said the first two vice admirals were not charged with sexual harassment.
“The caddies said they felt uncomfortable and uneasy when they accompanied the three-star vice admiral, rather than having felt sexually humiliated,” a Navy official said. According to the Navy’s probe, about 10 out of 50 caddies at the country club said they did not want to be assigned to him.
It remains unclear why Koo was dismissed.
Speculation has grown that he was dismissed because Adm. Chung Ho-seop, who was his junior at the Naval Academy, was promoted last month to become Navy chief.
“There is a practice in the military that the seniors will leave when their classmates or juniors are promoted as their commanders,” an official said.
Chung was appointed last month to take the helm of the 70,000-strong Navy to replace Adm. Hwang Ki-chul, who stepped down to take responsibility for corruption allegations over a procurement project.
Hwang was arrested for having ignored reports that the sonar of the salvage ship Tongyeong was shoddy.
Another former Navy Chief of Staff, Chung Ok-geun, was charged of receiving 770 million won ($700,000) in bribes from a local shipbuilding conglomerate.
BY JEONG YONG-SOO [email@example.com]