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YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Of the 35 people caught over the last year attempting to bribe gate guards to enter U.S. military installations, none have been prosecuted in South Korean courts, South Korean officials say.

That’s because under South Korean law, attempting to bribe someone who is not a public or government official is not considered illegal, said a high-ranking Korean National Police officer familiar with the issue.

Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, 8th Army public affairs officer, acknowledged the base lacks jurisdiction over people who attempt to bribe guards, who are South Korean citizens. But, he said, bribery or illegal entry is not a pervasive problem.

More than 70,000 legitimate visits are made each year to bases throughout South Korea, Boylan said.

The 35 arrests, stated an 8th Army reply to a Stars and Stripes query, “represent a very small percentage” of those visitors and indicate neither a general nor consistent problem.

Gate guards offered bribes generally take the money and report the incident to the military police, who tell Korean National Police, the KNP official said. At that point, the military police can bar the person from the base, the official said.

But American MPs don’t understand South Korean law, the police official contended, and sometimes detain suspects for hours of questioning — which could be considered illegal custody. Usually, someone accused of trying to bribe a gate guard and turned over to South Korean police is simply released, the official said.

And when South Korean police do release such persons, Boylan said, the officers are acting “within their purview” if South Korea’s legal system doesn’t consider bribing a guard a crime.

However, attempting to bribe base gate guards in the United States likely would be illegal, said Hyun. S. Kim, a USFK attorney. If the guards were soldiers, they could be considered government officials. Even if the guards were contractors, trying to bribe them still could violate the law, he said.

No South Korean gate guard has been caught accepting money for someone to gain access to the base, Boylan said.

Two types of security guards work on base: contract guards and direct-hires who work for USFK. The contract guards make less money than the USFK guards. A second South Korean police official implied temptation exists for the lower-paid guards to take bribes. “It’s a problem of structure,” said the second official, who works with the base on the issue.

USFK is moving toward making all guards contract guards, phasing out direct-hire guards as they retire, Boylan said.

South Korean police officials suggest gate guards have been paid extra money for catching people who try to bribe gate guards. Boylan said that’s not true.

USFK direct-hire gate guards are eligible for performance pay but no USFK policy provides compensation to guards who report bribery attempts, he said.

Performance awards are “not linked to catching somebody trying to get in” through bribery. “It could very easily be a misperception between the contract guards and the direct-hire guards,” Boylan said. The contract guards “aren’t getting any on-the-spot awards or anything, whereas maybe the hired guards are.”

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