U.S. Army general improperly accepted gifts in South Korea


Gen. Joseph Fil Jr. visits soldiers at their combat outpost in the Amariyah neighborhood of west Baghdad in 2007. (Petr David Josek/AP)

A three-star Army general ­improperly accepted gold-plated Montblanc pens, a $2,000 leather briefcase and other gifts from a South Korean citizen while commanding U.S. troops in that country, newly released documents show.

Joseph F. Fil Jr., the former commander of the U.S. Eighth Army in South Korea, also failed to report a $3,000 cash gift to a member of his family from the unnamed South Korean benefactor, according to a confidential investigative report by the Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General.

The undated report was completed more than a year ago, but the inspector general and the Army kept the details secret until this week, when The Washington Post obtained a redacted version under the Freedom of Information Act.

The case adds to a long list of personal misconduct scandals that have ensnared senior U.S. military commanders in the past year. The nature of the transgressions range from embarrassing ethical lapses to serious criminal charges, but they have combined to shake an institution that prides itself on the highest standards of honor and integrity.

“The trust in the fabric of our military profession is just being destroyed,” Army Maj. Gen. Gregg F. Martin, the president of the National Defense University, said Wednesday during a court appearance at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Martin joined a parade of Army brass called to Fort Bragg as potential jurors in the upcoming criminal trial of Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair on sexual-assault charges — the first court-martial of an Army general in decades. Martin was excused from the jury in part because he is leading an effort to reemphasize ethics and prevent misconduct among senior military leaders.

The Army in particular has been cracking down. Last month, the Army fired the commander of Fort Jackson in South Carolina, its largest training post, on charges of adultery and involvement in a physical altercation with a woman.

In June, the Army suspended its top commander in Japan for failing to properly investigate a sexual assault case. And in March, the Army fired a two-star general in Africa for allegedly groping a woman while he was under the influence of alcohol.

In addition to Fil, the Pentagon’s inspector general has cited evidence of misconduct on the part of three other Army generals since last year.

Among them was the former superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point — renowned for its strict honor code. Lt. Gen. David H. Huntoon Jr. retired last month after he was admonished for improperly making subordinates work at private charity dinners, provide free driving lessons and feed a friend’s cats.

In Fil’s case, Pentagon investigators concluded that he improperly accepted a $1,500 gift of Montblanc Meisterstueck Classique roller-ball and ballpoint pens — with “gold-plated furnishings” — along with the $2,000 briefcase. The name of the South Korean donor was redacted from the report, but he was described as someone whom Fil met in his official capacity as a U.S. commander.

Investigators also determined that Fil “allowed” a family member to accept a $3,000 cash gift from the South Korean donor. The relative’s name was also redacted from the report.

Fil told investigators that he accepted the gifts in “good conscience,” believing that they were legal because the giver was a longtime personal friend. Investigators cast doubt on that explanation, however, noting that the South Korean did not speak English and that Fil had to communicate with him by “using hand and arm signals.”

The report states that Fil “surrendered the briefcase and pen set to investigators” and that he ultimately repaid the $3,000 to the South Korean with a cashier’s check.

The investigation began in early 2011, shortly after Fil concluded his assignment as a commander in Korea. Agents from the FBI, the Army Criminal Investigation Command and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service assisted with the probe.

Ironically, Fil had been officially tapped in November 2010 to become the Army’s inspector general — responsible for overseeing investigations into fraud, waste, abuse and senior leader misconduct. Although the Army publicly announced his new position, he never actually took the job.

What happened to Fil after that remains a bit of a mystery. His official Army biography does not list any duties for him between November 2010 and September 2011, when he was assigned as a special assistant to the Army’s vice chief of staff.

Army records show that he officially retired in August 2012 as a major general, one rank below his position as a three-star commander in South Korea. In a statement Wednesday, an Army spokesman said Army Secretary John McHugh approved the decision to have Fil retire as a two-star general “after weighing the substantiated allegations of misconduct . . . against an otherwise long and distinguished career.” The Army took no other disciplinary measures against Fil, Army officials said.

In a brief phone interview Tuesday night, Fil declined to answer questions.

“I don’t think it’s wise for me to comment any further,” he said. “I just think I ought to leave it at that.”

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