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SEOUL — Seoul Customs Office officials are recommending that 17 South Koreans, including two AAFES employees, be charged with conspiring to evade South Korean tax law in connection with the sale of 56,000 cases of beer from Area I bases to local businesses, according to U.S. and South Korean authorities.

Kwon Ju-sung, of the customs office, said the case was to be filed to the Seoul Central Prosecutors Office on Wednesday, where officials will decide whether to press charges.

Kwon identified the two Army and Air Force Exchange Service employees as 46-year-old Lee, currently in police custody, and a man named Ji.

Kwon said an 18th suspect, whom he identified as an AAFES store manager, died Aug. 1 after jumping from the roof of his apartment building.

AAFES spokesman Judd Anstey at the Dallas headquarters said Tuesday that inventory officials are aware of the ongoing theft investigation, but could not provide any other details on the involvement of AAFES employees at this time.

U.S. Forces Korea officials said the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division has been cooperating fully with the Korean-led investigation.

The AAFES employees transferred duty-free beer, valued at $1.5 million, to various businesses, using a series of intermediaries, according to USFK.

“We are continuously reviewing our security procedures to prevent unlawful transfer of goods to non-SOFA personnel,” according to an e-mail statement from USFK. “These alleged actions, by a few individuals, are in no way indicative of the integrity and superior moral character displayed by our Korean employees every day.”

Kwon said both domestic and imported beers were diverted from the AAFES stores into businesses in Paju, Dongducheon and Uijeongbu. Members paid about $14 a case and sold each for about a $10 profit, according to Kwon.

He said limited law enforcement resources make it difficult to track which businesses are purchasing black-market alcohol legally.

In October 2003, customs investigators discovered an underground tunnel from a Hannam Village warehouse being used to smuggle beer and liquor.

The former post exchange manager there was arrested for the theft, and AAFES reported that more than $76,000 in inventory was stolen.

In September 2002, a Camp Stanton AAFES employee and five other South Koreans were charged in connection with the illegal sale of 1,500 cases of beer, whiskey and medicine to area stores.

And in June 2001, 18 South Koreans, including three AAFES employees, were arrested on customs violations for a two-year smuggling operation at Yongsan Garrison that moved 1,000 cases of beer a week to the local black market.

Stripes reporter Leo Shane III contributed to this report from Washington.

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