South Korean executive accused of bribing AAFES
November 5, 2006
SEOUL — A South Korean telecommunications executive accused of bribing U.S. military officials in exchange for a multimillion-dollar Internet service contract is awaiting documents from the Army and Air Force Exchange Service to help build his defense, his lawyers said.
As Jeong Gi-hwnan, 40, stood in a green prison uniform in a South Korean court Friday, his lawyers sought more time to defend him against an accusation that he gave AAFES officials cash and entertainment in exchange for a multiyear Internet service contract for U.S. servicemembers in South Korea, according to court proceedings and Korean National Police.
As an SSRT executive, Jeong is accused of paying $100,000 to a military official and providing entertainment on a dozen occasions in return for winning a $206 million contract that began in 2001, according to Hong Sung-mu, chief detective of the Gyeonggi province police department’s foreign affairs section.
The contract, which remains in effect, provides phone, Internet and cable television services to U.S Forces Korea military personnel on Osan Air Base, according to a statement AAFES officials released Friday. SSRT, which stands for Samsung Rental Telecommunications, also provides Internet service to U.S. military personnel on bases throughout the Korean peninsula, AAFES wrote in response to a Stars and Stripes inquiry.
“We understand some of our folks are being investigated,” AAFES spokesman Air Force Master Sgt. Donovan Potter said Thursday by phone.
AAFES officials declined to release further information about those workers, saying they’re cooperating with South Korean and U.S. investigators.
South Korean police said last week they believe two U.S. military officials are being investigated in the case.
Outside the courtroom in the city of Suwon, Jeong’s lawyers said Friday that they believed their client was innocent and declined to comment further. Jeong’s wife and sister also declined to comment other than saying they were “very sad.”
Jeong, arrested Sept. 14, was accused of bribery, Hong said through a translator on Thursday. He said Jeong has been in a prison in Suwon since that time.
Jeong also is accused of making 17 payments totaling $68,000 from September 2003 to July 2005 to a military official, according to South Korean police. In this part of the case, Jeong is accused of using bribes to ward off a quality inspection prompted by servicemembers’ complaints about Internet service, according to police.
If found guilty, Jeong could face a maximum sentence of five years in prison or a fine equaling almost twice the company’s profits during the contract with AAFES, Hong said.
At Friday’s hearing, the South Korean prosecutor said he was ready to move ahead and planned to bring four witnesses to the next court session.
But Jeong’s lawyers, Jang Ho-jin and Choi Myeong-ho, argued they needed more time to get documents from AAFES further explaining the bidding process. They also told the judge they were concerned about being able to compel U.S. military personnel, including two high-ranking officials within AAFES, to testify in South Korean court.
Judge Lee Hyun-woo set the next court date for Nov. 24.
AAFES referred all questions about the investigation to the South Korean police and the U.S. Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations.
“During this period,” they wrote, “AAFES’ prime concern is to minimize any potential disruption of services for our troops and their families. … AAFES will keep its customers informed if military leaders foresee any changes or problems as a result of this investigation.”