South Korea's Moon Jae In suspends deputy defence chief over Thaad report

SEOUL (Korea Herald/Asia News Network) - South Korea's Deputy Minister for Defence Policy Wee Seung Ho will be suspended for his part in withholding information on a controversial missile defence system from President Moon Jae In, the presidential office announced on Monday (June 5).

According to the presidential office, or Cheong Wa Dae, Wee ordered the fact that four Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) system launchers were in store at a US military base in South Korea to be removed from the Ministry of National Defence's report to the presidential transition team on May 25.

The deployment of the system by the US military, agreed by the government of Moon's predecessor, was a controversial issue in the May 10 presidential election and has infuriated China, North Korea's lone major ally.

"In the process of reviewing the report, Deputy Minister for Defence Policy Wee Seung Ho ordered phrases (that clarified the number of Thaad launchers) to be deleted," Yoon Young Chan, chief presidential press secretary, said, saying that the initial draft clearly stated that six Thaad launchers were in South Korea, four of which were stored at a US military base.

The draft was first compiled before the presidential election, Yoon said, adding that the motives for withholding information is still unclear.

Yoon added that the phrases were replaced with ambiguous wording designed to prevent those being briefed from fully understanding the situation in the final version.

According to Cheong Wa Dae, Wee claimed that the details were removed due to an agreement with the US military to maintain secrecy, and that he had planned to give an oral report elaborating on the details.

"(The nondisclosure agreement with the US military) is an issue separate from the commander in chief. It has been confirmed that the introduction of additional launchers were reported to the previous administration, and the acting president was aware of the issue."

Yoon said that President Moonordered further investigation into the matter, which will be conducted by the Defence Ministry, and if necessary by the Board of Audit and Inspection.

Yoon also revealed that former acting President Hwang Kyo Ahn, and former and current officials including Defense Minister Han Min Koo will not be subjected to further investigation or questioning by the presidential office.

The presidential office also revealed that the Defence Ministry deliberately arranged the processes involved in the deployment of Thaad to avoid a full environmental impact study.

According to Cheong Wa Dae, the Defensce Ministry limited the first stage of land handed over for Thaad deployment to under 330,000 square-meters to bypass local environmental laws.

In the Defence Ministry's land handover plans, drawn up on Nov 25, 329,770 square-meters of land would be handed over to the US military in the first stage. The land designated to be handed over first is in the form of an inverted U in order to exclude the land that falls in the center from the initial handover, the presidential office said.