The South Korean Navy is faltering under a string of corruption and sexual scandals involving former and current senior officials, triggering public criticism and calls for sweeping reform amid North Korea’s continued maritime threats.
The scandals have overshadowed the Navy’s efforts to honor this week the sacrifices of the 46 sailors who were killed in the North’s torpedo attack on the corvette Cheonan five years ago.
Former Chief of Naval Operations Hwang Ki-chul (right) attends a farewell ceremony on Feb. 27 after resigning over the charges of peddling influence regarding a supply deal for the salvage ship Tongyeong. (Yonhap)
On Wednesday, the Navy decided to refer a vice admiral and rear admiral to its disciplinary board on allegations that they pressured caddies to sing and dance multiple times at a golf course inside a naval unit in Jinhae, South Gyeongsang Province, since last November.
The two would face punishment for using their senior positions to make “inappropriate demands,” the Navy said. Another rear admiral in charge of management of the golf course will also be referred to the board for failing to report the case to the higher authorities.
The referral to the disciplinary panel came the day after a pan-governmental anticorruption panel indicted a retired rear admiral and a retired commander on charges of manipulating documents regarding the evaluation of a substandard part of a naval salvage ship, named Tongyeong, to help a foreign defense firm win a procurement deal.
The indictment of the two retirees was just the latest in a recent series of cases involving former admirals.
Former Chief of Naval Operations Hwang Ki-chul was arrested last Sunday on charges of peddling influence to allow the foreign firm to win a deal to supply a part of the salvage ship Tongyeong. Hwang served from 2013-2015 as CNO.
The corruption scandals surrounding the Tongyeong acquisition have drawn the ire of the public as its delivery to the Navy has been delayed due to some of its underperforming parts. Due to the delay, the advanced ship failed to be deployed to help support the rescue operations of the sunken Sewol ferry last April.
Hwang’s arrest came after another corruption scandal involving a former Navy chief sent shockwaves across the nation.
Chung Ok-geun, who led the Navy from 2008-2010, was arrested in January on charges of receiving hundreds of millions of won from a local firm after he helped it win a deal to participate in the Navy’s acquisition of next-generation warships.
The sexual and corruption scandals occurred as the North continues to pose a serious naval threat to the South by frequently violating the Northern Limit Line, the de facto inter-Korean sea border, and carrying out maritime drills that are designed to infiltrate into South Korea’s border islands.
Critics called for a sweeping reform in the Navy to restore public trust and troop morale. During his inauguration ceremony a month ago, new Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jung Ho-sub vowed to stamp out corruption and sexual misconduct, saying that the Navy should be reborn to win back public sentiment.
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org