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Thursday, August 3, 2000

Guilty verdicts
in Kahapea case

Bullet The issue: A Circuit Court jury has convicted former city housing official Michael Kahapea of embezzling $5.6 million from the city.
Bullet Our view: Incentives are needed to increase vigilance to make theft more difficult.

THE week that a Circuit Court jury took to return guilty verdicts in the embezzlement trial of former city housing official Michael Kahapea had more to do with its complexity than uncertainty about the defendant's actions. Jurors received overwhelming evidence that Kahapea, as property management branch chief, masterminded a scheme that bilked $5.6 million in relocation money from the city's Ewa Villages project.

The city should use the experience to develop safeguards against such schemes.

Kahapea and Norman Tam, the city's fair-housing officer, were assigned to relocate companies from Ewa Villages to make way for new affordable housing. In concert with family and friends, Kahapea set up bogus moving companies and had checks from the city delivered to them. Tam, who died last New Year's Eve, allegedly misled other city employees to conceal the embezzlement and shared in the proceeds.

"Criminal activity is going to occur in any big organization," Mayor Harris told construction industry members. "When you're running a city with $1.3 billion and almost 9,000 employees...the question is how do you handle it once you find out about it."

Of equal importance is the question of how members of the city's work force can be encouraged to report irregularities that may indicate illegal activity.

Some city officials were less than inquisitive about the relocation project as the scheme was executed from 1993 to 1997. City housing division chief Randall Wong, who was deputy chief when the project was in full swing, signed off on $3.2 million in relocation claims but testified that he did not confirm that the moves took place because that was not his job.

It took Michael Shiroma, a city housing and community development specialist, to courageously blow the whistle on the wrongdoing. Shiroma discovered that Kahapea was president of a company that included directors who also were officials of trucking companies being paid for Ewa Villages relocations, and he asked a city auditor to investigate.

The mayor says he has instituted internal controls to increase budgetary oversight in city government. The imprisonment of Kahapea and embarrassment to city officials should result in greater vigilance against corruption.

U.S.-South Korea
pact may be revised

Bullet The issue: The agreement covering the status of U.S. forces in South Korea will be revised.
Bullet Our view: It's important for the United States to attempt to satisfy South Korean demands regarding U.S. personnel accused of crimes against Koreans.

RESIDENTS' discontent with the continuing presence of U.S. forces has been focused in recent years on Okinawa, but it is spreading to South Korea. Anti-U.S. protests have been growing there since May, when a U.S. Air Force fighter jet with engine trouble dropped six bombs near a village 50 miles southwest of Seoul. Six people were slightly injured and walls were cracked by the impact.

Last month criticism flared when the U.S. military admitted to accidentally dumping 20 gallons of formaldehyde, a cancer-causing chemical, into the Han River, a main source of drinking water for Seoul.

In the latest protest, about 500 students and other activists rallied in central Seoul, demanding an end to the U.S. military presence 50 years after the start of the Korean War.

The Pentagon is not ignoring the problem. In an attempt to remove a major source of contention over the 37,000 troops stationed in South Korea, U.S. negotiators, in talks with the government of President Kim Dae-jung, have agreed to revise the status of forces agreement with Seoul, giving South Korea increased jurisdiction over American soldiers in criminal cases.

Negotiators agreed to reopen talks in Washington within two months to try to resolve pending issues. The current agreement, which was signed in 1965 and revised in 1991, provides that American soldiers suspected of crimes are to remain in the custody of the U.S. military until all appeals are exhausted through the South Korean court system.

Critics say the treaty is too lenient toward U.S. soldiers implicated in criminal cases and compares unfavorably with similar treaties with other countries such as Germany and Japan.

Seoul seeks custody of accused soldiers upon indictment or the issuance of an arrest warrant. It also wants to add environmental regulations to the pact.

The stationing of troops in foreign countries is an invitation to friction. Crimes committed by U.S. armed forces personnel against citizens of the host country pose a highly sensitive problem. It is complicated by sentiments of nationalism and the desire of military commanders to shield accused personnel from mistreatment.

Although withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Korea and Japan is not imminent, they are not going to be there forever -- only as long as they are needed. Until the time for withdrawal comes, the United States must try to satisfy host countries' demands on crimes committed by service personnel as well as other issues.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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