U.N. Mess club closed as investigations continue
January 30, 2004
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — A Pusan prosecutor said Wednesday he is investigating U.S. base personnel involved in “Casino Night,” a weekly blackjack, poker and baccarat night shut down in October.
Prosecutor Kang In-chul did not identify the Americans but said he’s asked the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command, which also is investigating, to help.
However, USFK spokeswoman Lt. Col. Deborah Bertrand said, “We have checked and are unaware of the Office of the Pusan Prosecutor contacting anyone on base for assistance in their investigation.”
The United Nations Mess — a members-only club — was ordered closed Monday while the organization reviews its bylaws and compliance with Defense Department regulations, a mess official said.
The closure has “nothing to do with anything else that is going on,” said Mess secretary Bob Henault.
Mess personnel and patrons are the object of three investigations into “Casino Night.” The investigations focus on whether the mess allowed illegal gambling in violation of Korean law and people profited from the operation.
South Korean lawmaker Song Young-jin was indicted Jan. 9 by Pusan prosecutors and accused of gambling on six different occasions at the U.N. compound. He admitted to losing about $14,000 between September and October.
USFK officials said after the operation was shut down that no illegal gambling took place. The operation was an entertainment fund-raiser in which winners won prizes, not money, USFK said.
Korean prosecutors also have indicted five other people in connection with gambling at the compound, two of whom may have ties to the “World Cup” organized crime ring, prosecutor’s office officials said. The Pusan prosecutor’s office said it became involved after names of some of the same people it was investigating in connection with a Philippines gambling operation also surfaced in its investigation of the U.N. compound.
Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas P. Kane, the U.N. Command’s deputy chief of staff, closed the U.N. Mess bar Monday, according to an e-mail message sent to Mess members. Private functions would cease beginning Feb. 1, the message said, and a “Hail and Farewell” — a monthly unit send-off for personnel leaving South Korea — was canceled.
Mess members will be called for a meeting soon to explain the closure, Henault said. The club — which has a small bar and large, enclosed reception room — sits on a hill at the U.N. Command compound close to the Capital Hotel, across from Yongsan Garrison’s south post.
Lt. Col. MaryAnn Cummings, U.N. Command public affairs officer, said the review was part of continuing analysis of the U.N. mess charter, business and membership practices. It will ensure the U.N. mess is adhering to installation policies and procedures, she said.
The U.N. Command’s chain of command could take action when the review is completed, Cummings said. Top officers include Gen. Leon J. LaPorte, USFK commander and commander of the U.N. Command; and Lt. Gen. Charles C. Campbell, 8th Army commander and U.N. Command chief of staff.
“Casino Night” was canned in October after Song, an Uri Party member, was photographed at a blackjack table. USFK canceled a contract with C.H. International, the company staging the event, after the company allowed unauthorized people access to the event and exceeded the set hours of the event, USFK has stated.
The command then ordered a base attorney to conduct a commander’s investigation. It has not been completed, Cummings said. CID also is looking at “Casino Night,” and that probe is continuing, she said.
“Casino Night” ran weekly from July to the end of October. While organizers said winnings were distributed in the form of prizes, a Korean newspaper reported illegal activity and that cash exchanged hands from a van in the parking lot.
In exchange for hosting the night, the U.N. mess received about $1,800 in rent per evening. C.H. International also funded numerous improvements to the mess’ deteriorating building, Mess officials have said.
The Mess’ 200 or so members include American civilians, U.S. soldiers and members from other countries. The club is part of the U.N. Command, the American-led consortium of countries that fought for South Korea during the 1950-53 Korean War. Those interested in joining the Mess must apply and be approved.
Today, the U.N. unit still is responsible for monitoring the armistice agreement and the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea
— Choe Song-won contributed to this report.