NATIONAL

[Newsmaker] Defense chief nominee on hot seat over scandal

By Yeo Jun-suk
  • Published : Jun 22, 2017 - 16:15
  • Updated : Jun 22, 2017 - 18:18
When former Navy chief Song Young-moo was nominated as the first minister of defense for the Moon Jae-in administration last week, hopes were high that the retired admiral will bring sweeping reforms.

In his first meeting with reporters after being nominated, Song laid out his vision with confidence. Describing the current security challenges as being paradigm-shifting, he pledged to “rebuild” the military by eradicating dubious military contracts.

But the path for Song’s appointment is likely to be arduous, one strewn with allegations that critics say contradicts Song’s vision for military overhaul. The controversy is likely to dominate Song’s parliamentary hearing slated for June 28.

Former Navy chief Song Young-moo (Yonhap)

Topping the list of accusations is that Song obstructed the military’s investigation into a dubious procurement contract of naval supplies when he served as the Navy’s top commander in 2007.

According to the investigation report obtained by Rep. Kim Hack-yong of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, Song ordered lenient penalties for officers involved in the scandal despite the report suggesting that the contract caused a massive waste of taxes.

“Song was trying to shoot down the investigation even after he was briefed about the wrongdoings,” said Kim. “Based on a series of allegations surrounding Song, I don’t think he is fit for South Korea’s defense chief.”

Officials close to Song denied the lawmaker’s accusation, saying Song had repeatedly instructed further investigation into the procurement scandal. Song was not immediately available for comments.

Another scandal surrounding Song is that he may have had improper ties with the businesses. The accusers cite the large payments he received in return for offering counsel for a law firm dealing with legal process over military contracts.

Lawmaker Kim suggested that Song offered “special advice” for Yulchon, a law firm, which helped local shipbuilders sign business deals with overseas military contractors. According to local daily Hankook ilbo, Song received about 990 million won ($868,000) from the law firm, working as an adviser between 2009 and 2011.

“He was not involved with individual cases. What he did was to explain military jargons and backgrounds for the lawyers who lacked the knowledge about defense affairs,” said an aide of Song’s told reporters in a text message.

Although Song‘s post-military career in private companies does not clash with laws, opposition lawmakers warn that Song’s initiative for military reform could be undermined by it.

“The defense minister is tasked with eradicating acquisition wrongdoings and overhauling defense policy. I’m afraid that there might be serious conflict of interest if Song became defense minister,” Rep. Joo Ho-young of Liberty Korea Party said on Thursday.

The allegation surrounding Song’s daughter is another controversial issue. Song was accused of pulling strings to help his daughter land a job at Agency for Defense Development, a state agency for defense technology, when Song served as a naval chief in 2008. After leaving the post, Song also worked as an adviser for ADD.

By Yeo Jun-suk (jasonyeo@heraldcorp.com)