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[Newsmaker] Defense chief vows strict punishment in sex crime probe

From right: Acting Air Force Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Jeong Sang-hwa, Defense Minister Suh Wook, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Nam Yeong-shin and Navy Chief of Staff Adm. Boo Suk-jong pay silent tribute to a female Air Force noncommissioned officer, who died by suicide after being sexually assaulted by a fellow service member, at the National Assembly’s defense committee in Seoul, Wednesday. (Yonhap)
From right: Acting Air Force Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Jeong Sang-hwa, Defense Minister Suh Wook, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Nam Yeong-shin and Navy Chief of Staff Adm. Boo Suk-jong pay silent tribute to a female Air Force noncommissioned officer, who died by suicide after being sexually assaulted by a fellow service member, at the National Assembly’s defense committee in Seoul, Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Defense Minister Suh Wook on Wednesday promised strict punishment of anyone who helped bury a sex crime investigation whose handling is believed to have led to the suicide of an Air Force master sergeant.

The Air Force is accused of sitting on the case and engaging in a systematic cover-up.

“I express my sincere apologies to the bereaved family and to fellow citizens … the investigation will be thorough and bring everyone involved in the cover-up to justice, regardless of rank,” Suh said at a parliamentary national defense committee meeting.

Suh told the lawmakers he received the first official briefing about the suicide on May 24, two days after the master sergeant was found dead at her base. But he said he was not informed at the time about the sex abuse allegations she brought to military attention on March 2.

The Air Force did not report to the ministry what could have led to the suicide, in violation of a rule that anything that could help explain the death should be cited in the report. The Air Force chief said last week that he had decided to step down.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, the ministry raided the prosecutors’ offices at the Air Force headquarters and the 20th Fighter Wing base where the master sergeant worked. The search marks potentially the last round of raids that began at the military police offices at the two bases.

The ministry is also looking into whether the public defender the Air Force appointed to represent the master sergeant had done his job. The lawyer, who had been in the role for about a year as an officer, did not meet her even once after she filed the complaint. He said coronavirus precautions prevented a meeting.

He also reportedly relayed a settlement offer to the victim’s family, who insisted that the perpetrator not walk free, but face punishment. The family filed a complaint against the lawyer, saying he had done little to seek redress and had revealed the victim’s identity.

The lawyer said he intends to pursue legal action to challenge the claim.

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)
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