Rooting out military corruption

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Rooting out military corruption

Prosecutors filed for a preliminary arrest warrant for arms dealer Chung Eui-sung. He is charged of embezzling 100 billion won ($88.9 million) in provisions he received from a German company in return for arranging a deal with the Korean military on a next-generation submarine project. Chung had been previously arrested for bribing top brass associated with the controversial Yulgok project in 1993 that sent two defense ministers and four senior military officers to jail. Chung, who had started his own business after 14 years in the Navy, was taken into custody in 1993 for paying off a former navy chief.

This time, he also recruited a former navy operation commander as an adviser - mainly a lobbyist - for his company. The commander Ahn Ki-seok has been indicted for having received 175 million won from Chung. The submarine Chung imported for the Navy had serious engine flaws. The Navy however bought the submarine without even bothering with a routine evaluation. The revolving-door practices and dirty connections between arms leaders and retired military officials have been eroding the country’s defense capabilities.

It is common for an unethical arms dealer to commit the same crime and resort to old, dirty tricks to win new lucrative procurements. Ilgwang Group Chairman Lee Kyu-tae, who had been in the business for 30 years, was arrested earlier this year for exaggerating the price of the Electronic Warfare Threat Simulator. In 2009, he was sentenced to four years in jail for embezzling billions of won and a breach of trust while arranging weapons deals with Russia. Another arms dealer who pocketed millions of dollars while importing faulty antiaircraft guns that broke in half, later won a deal to provide radars for antiaircraft guns. The top brass would have been familiar with the credentials of these corrupt sales agents, and yet they went on awarding them with new projects. We can only assume they were handsomely rewarded in return.

The Defense Acquisition Program Administration has a rule to limit bid entries by companies that have a record of corruption. But they somehow get around the law by getting an injunction to win orders. Slap-on-the-wrist punishments cannot root out military corruption. The defense minister promised to eradicate “acts of betrayal to the nation.” Authorities must demonstrate resolution so that arms traders cannot dream of attempting to profiteer on defense projects.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 2, Page 34

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