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SEOUL — Three South Koreans involved with a scheme to distribute beer from U.S. military camps on the black market were sentenced Thursday in Seoul Central District Court.

Lee Jin-hwa, a 46-year-old Army and Air Force Exchange Service employee, was found guilty of conspiring to evade tax laws and sentenced to one year in prison. The sentence was suspended for three years.

Lee Sang-young was sentenced to one year in prison, also suspended for three years. Lee Seung-whan was sentenced to eight months in prison, suspended for two years. Both had been found guilty of stealing the beer.

No information was available on the other 14 suspects indicted in connection with the scheme, in which 56,000 cases of beer moved from Area I bases to local businesses.

Customs officials who originally investigated the case said an 18th suspect — another AAFES employee — died Aug. 1 after jumping from the roof of his apartment building.

In reading his decision, Chief Judge Jang Sung-wan said he gave a lenient sentence for the AAFES employee because he was convinced Lee “had been under heavy stress of [losing] his job” as the U.S. military realigns its forces on the peninsula and that Lee was “pressed to boost sales records.”

Lt. Col. Tom Budzyna, 8th Army spokesman, replied via e-mail to the decision.

“The agreement between the Republic of Korea and the United States to reduce troop levels [will obviously impact our civilian workforce],” he wrote. “We work very closely with the Korea Employees Union through the Civilian Personnel Office to minimize the impact on the civilian workforce and to address any specific changes. We greatly value the commitment and dedication of our entire workforce.

“As in any matter where conduct is under investigation, we respect the rights and privacy of individuals, the legal process and the decision of the court,” Budzyna wrote.

The three men sentenced Thursday also were fined: the AAFES employee must pay $96,000; Lee Sang-young must pay $347,000; and Lee Seung-whan must pay $106,000.

They listened to the 20-minute ruling with their heads bowed and declined to comment after the case.

Lee Jin-hwa’s wife said her husband, who has worked for AAFES for about 20 years, will appeal the decision.

The scam moved duty-free beer, worth about $1.5 million, from Area I installations to local businesses, both South Korean and U.S. officials confirmed.

USFK officials have said they continuously review security procedures “to prevent unlawful transfer of goods to non-SOFA personnel.”

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