S. Korea expands gambling probe of USFK club
January 5, 2004
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — South Korean prosecutors may contact U.S. military officials for questions related to an expanding illegal gambling probe into a weekly “Casino Night” at the U.N. Command officers club, officials said Friday.
Prosecutor Kang In-chul of the foreign affairs division at the Pusan District Prosecutor’s Office said he couldn’t describe what contact had been made with U.S. officials.
“I can say an investigation is ongoing connected with U.S. personnel,” Kang said.
So far, four South Koreans have been indicted and prosecutors are seeking six more for questioning related to the weekly poker, baccarat and blackjack night. Two South Koreans — a 44-year-old man and a 46-year-old man identified only by their surnames, Park — have been charged with opening and running an illegal casino, Kang said.
Some of the indicted have been identified as connected with the “World Cup” organized crime ring, Kang said. The other two were indicted for illegal gambling on the U.S. base, and their names can’t be released.
Prosecutors questioned National Assembly lawmaker Song Young-jin for three hours last Monday, Kang said. Song has admitted to gambling around $14,000 at the U.N. club between September and October, said his spokesman, Kim Ki-jun.
Song, an Uri party member, apologized days later, after the Dong-a Ilbo newspaper took a photo of him Oct. 25 at the gaming night. In a news release, he said it was inappropriate for him to be there and that he lost about $500 that night.
The U.N. Command compound is near the Capital Hotel outside Yongsan Garrison’s south post.
The Pusan office began investigating after prosecutors found out some people connected with illegal gambling in the Philippines were linked to illegal gambling at the U.N. compound, Kang said.
The gaming night was shut down soon after lawmaker Song was photographed. U.S. Forces Korea officials said they were investigating reports of illegal gambling.
USFK spokeswoman Lee Ferguson said Friday she did not have any information on whether the investigation results will be publicly released.
USFK canceled the gaming contract after the Dong-a story, saying the contractor allowed unauthorized people inside the U.N. compound. CH International, a gaming company run by an American and South Korean partners, maintained they were not responsible for access to the base.
CH International partner Tom Casey said patrons were gaming, not gambling. Tokens were purchased for gaming but were only redeemable for prizes, he said, which complied with South Korean law and Defense Department policy.
On Friday, Casey said he had spoken with base investigators once in relation to their probe, but that neither he nor his South Korean partner had been contacted by South Korean prosecutors.
Base legal officials gave the green light for a 6-month trial contract, Casey said. The U.N. mess received about $1,800 a night for rental of their club, and his company was financing other improvements to the facility.
Casey said winners exchanged their chips for prizes such as watches or gift certificates to department stores, including Lotte.