Investigators said Sunday they have indicted without arrest retired Adm. Choi Yoon-hee, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for receiving bribes from an arms dealer in connection with the Navy’s purchase of multi-mission maritime helicopters.
The joint investigation team for corruption involving arms procurement projects said that Choi is suspected of ordering officers to forge an assessment report to show that the AW159 Wildcat supplied by Agusta Westland meets the Navy’s requirements in 2012. The Navy had been pushing the project in the wake of the sinking of the Cheonan corvette in 2010, in which 46 sailors and officers perished.
Without any actual evaluation of the model, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration decided in January 2013 to buy eight Wildcat helicopters worth 580 billion won by 2016 and the process is underway.
Adm. Choi Yoon-hee, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Yonhap
The investigators said Choi appears to have a close relationship with an arms dealer identified by his surname Ham. Ham has also been indicted for bribery.
In exchange, Ham allegedly arranged a job for Choi’s close subordinate, while repeatedly offering fine dining to Choi’s wife.
In exchange for the Navy’s final decision to purchase the Wildcat, Ham is also suspected of delivering 20 million won ($17,200) to Choi’s son, who has been preparing to open a business, in September 2014.
Choi reportedly admitted that his son received the money from the dealer, but insisted that the exchange had no relation to him. Choi’s son claimed that he gave 15 million won back to the dealer.
Two researchers at state-run defense institutes have also been indicted for receiving bribes from Ham in exchange for favorable assessment in arms procurement.
Choi is the highest-ranking military officer to face trial over arms graft since 1996 when former Defense Minister Lee Yang-ho was questioned for being involved in illegal lobbying. Lee was not punished due to lack of evidence.
The joint investigative team encompassing prosecutors, government officials and experts launched in November last year to zero in on arms graft cases have indicted 74, of whom nearly 20 have so far been sentenced to imprisonment.
The accumulated volume of the indicted bribery cases exceeds 1 trillion won. Of the indicted, 11 are former or incumbent military generals. The team is originally slated to wrap up their work by the end of this month, but calls have been rising for an extension of their operation.