South Korea indicts 6 for $8 million AAFES theft
5 former employees allegedly part of black market operation out of Camp Stanley
By JON RABIROFF AND HWANG HAE-RYM | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 21, 2009
Almost $8 million in goods were stolen from Camp Stanley over the course of a year in an alleged black market operation, leading to the indictments last week of six South Koreans.
Five of the people indicted are former Army and Air Force Exchange Service employees, officials said.
Oh Won-geun of the Seoul Supreme Prosecutors Office said Friday that between October 2005 and September 2006 the group rang up fraudulent receipts to cover the smuggling of a variety of goods — including electronic equipment and alcoholic beverages — from Camp Stanley outside Uijeongbu. The goods were primarily sold at the Namdaemun market in Seoul.
In all, the group stole about 8,000 items costing 9.8 billion won, or more than $7.8 million, he said.
"It was a very organized ring," Oh said.
Some of those indicted for violating the Customs Act are cooperating with authorities; the investigation into the alleged smuggling ring is continuing.
Area I AAFES General Manager Ken Limtiaco, who was not in his current job when the alleged smuggling ring was in operation, said the investigation that led to the indictments was prompted by a "spot check" that turned up goods being smuggled out of Camp Stanley, he said.
According to a 2006 Stars and Stripes story, a suspicious-looking truck parked at Camp Stanley prompted a Sept. 25, 2006, sting operation in which U.S. and South Korean officials discovered thousands of dollars’ worth of goods bound for the black market.
A Seoul Customs Service agent said that a Camp Stanley AAFES official alerted Army Criminal Investigative Command agents about the truck, and they contacted the Seoul Customs Service.
The two agencies set up a sting and followed the truck off base until it stopped to make a delivery. Investigators found cash, liquor and food products on the truck, including Spam and cheese.
A U.S. military police blotter item excerpted at that time said the investigation identified an import goods store as "a Korean drop house where diverted AAFES goods were taken and sold on the Korean economy."
The customs agent said at the time that officials believed there were more people "systematically involved in this black-marketing organization" and that all past suspicious-looking sales records were going to be examined closely.
Limtiaco said he understood that customs officials recently reopened an investigation into the case when new information surfaced.
The AAFES official said he believes better safeguards are now in place to prevent such a large-scale black-market smuggling operation from getting any traction.
In recent years officials have developed a computerized tracking system that can highlight irregular or unusual purchases shoppers make.
AAFES also does a variety of things to "ensure our employees understand the consequences" if they are party to any sort of effort to smuggle goods from military facilities, Limtiaco said.