Morgue official in Korea convicted of dumping chemicals avoids jail
Stars and Stripes January 20, 2005
SEOUL — The top official at the U.S. military’s morgue here on Tuesday lost his appeal on a pollution conviction in a South Korean court but won a reprieve from six months in jail, according to the decision from the chief appellate judge in the case.
Judge Jung Duk-mo ordered U.S. Forces Korea civilian employee Albert McFarland to serve two years of probation and suspended a lower court’s six-month jail sentence. McFarland has a week to decide whether to appeal the decision, Jung said in Seoul Central District Court.
McFarland, who was in court Tuesday for only the second time in the five-year-long case, stood quietly with a translator during the ruling. He asked questions only when he was unsure about the translation, though he did say he would request a written copy of the judge’s decision.
McFarland declined to answer questions after the ruling. His lawyer, Kim Jong-pyo, was unavailable Tuesday for questions.
Last year, a Seoul court tried McFarland in absentia on charges he ordered two morgue workers to dump about 192 16-ounce bottles containing a mixture with formaldehyde in February 2000.
The chemicals ended up in the Han River, the main source of drinking water in Seoul, and drew outcries from environmental groups there.
USFK officials argued that, under the status of forces agreement, the United States has jurisdiction over McFarland’s actions while on duty. The South Koreans disagreed and rejected an offer of a U.S.-imposed $4,300 fine. Instead a Korean judge sentenced him on Jan. 9, 2004, to six months in jail.
Jung noted in his decision that the South Korean courts did have jurisdiction in the case, a point McFarland had continued to contest in his appeal.
One Korean environmental group praised the decision, saying it showed that South Korean courts have jurisdiction over the actions of USFK workers.
Park Yang-ghu, who works for Green Korea, said Tuesday he would have preferred that USFK acknowledge the incident rather than persecute one person. Green Korea had filed a complaint about McFarland’s actions in the early stages of the case, Park said.
“The aim of our filing a complaint is that we would rather have an acknowledgment of mistakes from USFK than from an individual on this serious case,” Park said through a translator.
A USFK spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday that McFarland still is employed by the U.S. military in Seoul.