SEOUL – Three South Koreans are under investigation for allegedly selling base passes to their friends and business associates, giving them illegal access to U.S. military installations.
In Seoul, South Korean police say two men -- one a retired lieutenant colonel who used to work at the Combined Forces Command, and the other a special adviser for international relations to a former U.S. Forces Korea commander – sold 81 passes between the summers of 2006 and 2011.
The men, ages 54 and 55, have confessed to selling the passes for between 200,000 won and 3.3 million won each, or approximately $174 and $2,878, according to the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency. The men falsely claimed the passes were being issued to South Koreans who participated in goodwill activities with the military.
Meanwhile, a third South Korean employee at Camp Henry in Taegu also is being investigated by the U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigation Command, or CID, for selling base passes, according to 19th Expeditionary Sustainment Command spokesman Maj. Chris Maestas. The employee works in the command’s civil affairs section, which handles community relations, though Maestas said he could not release further information because of the ongoing investigation.
South Koreans involved in friendship activities with the military are routinely granted base passes, though the number of people with those passes was not immediately available. Having access to USFK facilities, from golf courses to Yongsan’s Dragon Hill Lodge, has long been considered a status symbol among many in South Korea.
Police in Seoul would not release further information about the men suspected of selling passes at Yongsan, nor would they say which USFK commander the special adviser, a civilian, worked for. Now-retired generals B.B. Bell and Walter Sharp commanded USFK from 2006 to 2008 and 2008-2011, respectively.
South Korean police said neither man had been arrested yet. However, USFK issued a statement last week saying that a former USFK employee had been arrested on suspicion of illegally granting passes to Yongsan.
“This arrest was the result of an ongoing investigation that began last summer. The individual is no longer employed by USFK, and we are fully cooperating with the Korean National Police on this matter,” the statement said. “Security on USFK installations is a top priority, and steps have been taken by USFK to eliminate the opportunity for abuse of our installation pass process.”
According to Seoul police, USFK contacted South Korean police last year after a CID investigation found evidence of the illegal sales.
The retired lieutenant colonel, who owns a trading business, sold the passes in hopes of recruiting new customers to South Korean doctors, professors, businesspeople and entertainers, police said.
Seoul police cited lax oversight of the process of issuing guest passes to South Koreans. According to South Korean police, high-ranking military officers or civilian employees can approve the issuance of passes to South Koreans involved in friendship activities.
USFK did not immediately respond to a query about what procedures are in place for the approval and issuance of such passes.