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(LEAD) Naval officer under probe for allegedly coercing subordinate's false confession

Defense 17:37 July 12, 2019

(ATTN: ADDS Navy chief of Staff's remarks, more details in last 6 paras; CHANGES photo)

SEOUL, July 12 (Yonhap) -- A Navy officer is under investigation on charges of forcing a soldier to make false confessions in an investigation launched after an unidentified person was found inside his naval base last week, officials said Friday.

On July 4, soldiers on guard duty found the unidentified person near the ammunition depot inside the Navy's Second Fleet Command in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul. When asked for a countersign, the person failed to give an answer and ran away, according to the Navy.

An immediate manhunt was launched but failed to catch or identify the person, it added.

Investigators have found no signs of outside infiltration based on its analysis of CCTV footage, fences around the compound and witness accounts, and authorities have been focusing the investigation on members of the fleet.

During the probe, one of the soldiers stationed at the base confessed that the unidentified person was him. But that confession turned out to be false, the officials said.

"Over the course of the probe, a petty officer second class confessed to the alleged suspicious acts, but he later told investigators that he did so falsely as he was coerced by a senior officer," a Navy officer told reporters.

The lieutenant commander allegedly told soldiers under his command that one of them should make a confession so that the case would not trouble the entire unit, he added.

The entrance of the Navy's Second Fleet Command in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province (Yonhap)

Taking the case seriously, Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo sent eight investigators to the command earlier in the day and 17 more later, and called for a thorough probe, according to a defense ministry official.

"Though the initial probe dismissed the chances of espionage by any intruders, the defense ministry's probe panel will look into the case from scratch," the official noted.

In response to mounting criticism over alleged lax discipline and wrongful practices, the Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Sim, Seung-seob offered an apology.

"I feel sorry about this case ... After wrapping up the probe, we will present the exact details," Sim told reporters.

Some critics have raised suspicions over the military's attempt to cover up the case, as the defense minister had not been aware of the incident until this morning.

"(Admiral Sim) has known the case from the outset, and has managed the situation. We were to report the case to the minister or make it public after identifying the runaway person," a senior Navy officer said.


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