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Moon presses military over botched sex crime probe

President Moon Jae-in. (Yonhap)
President Moon Jae-in. (Yonhap)
President Moon Jae-in on Thursday ordered an exhaustive probe into allegations surrounding the suicide of an Air Force master sergeant.

The order comes amid public outrage, which prompted the military to expand its waylaid investigation of sex crime allegations made by the deceased.

“It truly hurts me to look at the victim, how devastated she must have felt. We need a thorough inquiry into every event leading up to her death, and after that. We have to see to what should have been done in the first place,” Moon said in a statement.

The sergeant, who claimed she had been sexually assaulted by a fellow master sergeant who was senior to her, was found dead on May 22, months after she first brought the matter to military attention on March 2.

“Military prosecutors will deal with the abuse allegations, the internal inspection bureau will check if everything had been done to facilitate the victim’s complaint and the personnel office will assist the bereaved family in every way it can,” Defense Ministry spokesperson Boo Seung-chan said.

The investigation, which began in March, gained traction only Tuesday, when an online petition asking the presidential office to look into the victims’ death made headlines. In the complaint, the victim’s family claimed there had been a systematic cover-up by the Air Force.

The Defense Ministry took over the case the same day. On Wednesday, the master sergeant accused of misconduct was brought into custody and later arrested.

Identified by the surname Jang, he is accused of sexually assaulting the victim while they were left alone in a car heading back to their base after stopping for a late evening gathering. Jang allegedly compelled the victim to attend the event, which took place near their base in Seosan, South Chungcheong Province.

The victim’s family claims she immediately notified her superiors and military police of the attack. But they said the military had tried to silence the victim and her husband, who was also in uniform. Little was done to open a full investigation, according to the family.

The victim, who sought counseling during a two-month leave of absence that ended in late May, was found dead at her base shortly after returning to work, with what appeared to be a video recording that showed her taking her life.

Civilian counselors had all ruled out the potential of suicide despite text messages they exchanged with the victim where she explicitly said she wanted to kill herself. She had not been offered counseling by the military.

The Defense Ministry said it had not been aware that the victim’s death had anything to do with the alleged sexual violence because the Air Force did not report the events as related. The ministry admitted that the national attention could have played some role in shedding light on the case.

“Everything in the investigation starts from ground zero. Everyone involved in cover-ups, suppressing evidence, blackmailing witnesses will be called in,” a military official said.

By Choi Si-young (