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Suspicions of the Secret Payment to North Is Rather Widening

Suspicions of the Secret Payment to North Is Rather Widening

Posted February. 14, 2003 22:32,   


President Kim Dae-jung issued a public statement to offer an apology to the nation for causing the political conflicts surrounding the Hyundai Merchant Marine’s cash payment to North Korea by giving his explanation to the issue through a press conference on Feb.14.

However, as the president failed to give a detailed explanation to some major suspicions, including the role of the National Intelligence Service in the remittance process and whether the payment was made in return for securing the landmark 6.15 inter-Korean summit talks in 2000, the political conflicts surrounding the issue is likely to further deepen.

During the press conference, President Kim said, “I humbly apologize my fellow Koreans for causing such a confusion surrounding the Hyundai Merchant Marine’s money transfer to the North. I will assume all the responsibilities for the current development.” However, when asked about his willingness to accept an investigation by the prosecution or an independent counsel, he practically expressed his objection to the idea by saying, “It is inappropriate to subject the issue to any legal actions because it will not benefit national interests.”

In addition, he also said, “At that moment, the government agreed to remit the money to the North, judging the Hyundai shipping company’s money remittance to the North would benefit national interests and peace on the Korean Peninsula, although the move might be in violation of the current law governing inter-Korean relations. In other words, the government received the help of the company, which had already made a lot of business contracts with the North at that moment, in the process of pushing for the historic inter-Korean summit in 2000.”

At the press conference, presidential advisor for foreign policy, national security, and unification Lee Dong-won, who was also on hand with the president that day, made it clear, “I received a report that Hyundai agreed to pay a total of 500 million dollars to North Korea in return for securing its exclusive inter-Korean business rights in the communist country.”

Meanwhile, Park Ji-won, President Kim’s chief of staff, admitted the fact that he discussed the inter-Korean summit talks in a secret meeting with Song Ho-kyung, vice chairman of the North Korea’s Asia Pacific Peace Committee, in Singapore in March 8-10, 2000.

However, although President Kim Dae-jung explained the cash payment to the North in his own words, the public suspicions are further mounting, as some major issues in question are not clarified yet. The major issues include whether there were outside influences imposed on the Korea Development Bank extending a 400 billion won loan to Hyundai, whether the NIS reported President Kim on its involvement in the money remittance to the North, which line was used to remit the remaining 300 million dollars to the North among the total 500 million-dollar loan, and whether the payment was made in return for the inter-Korean summit talks.

With respect to President Kim’s press conference, opposition Grand National Party’s acting chairman Park Hee-tae reaffirmed his party’s firm position to push for the appointment of an independent counsel by saying, “The president blew out the final chance to clear up the suspicion surrounding the secret payment, today.”

Furthermore, the GNP pointed out a 12-point of problems in the President’s statement and urged to issue a ban on 6 leading figures playing major roles in the secret payment, including presidential chief of staff Park Ji-won and presidential advisor Lee Dong-won, from leaving the country. In addition, the main opposition GNP made it clear that it would file a complaint against Park Ji-won for violating the National Assembly law regarding perjury with the prosecution. The party accused the presidential chief of staff of making a false testimony in the parliamentary probe in October 2002 on the ground that he never met with vice chairman of the Asia Pacific Peace Committee Song Ho-kyung in Singapore in March 2000.

Meanwhile, Rep. Lee Q-tak and Rep. Chung Kyun-whan, floor leaders of the GNP and the ruling Millennium Democratic Party (MDP), respectively, met to find a common ground to settle the issue of appointing an independent counsel that day in the National Assembly, but the meeting was broken off without any substantial results.

The GNP`s floor leader Rep. Lee said, “If the bill calling for the appointment of an independent counsel failed to pass in the plenary session slated for Feb.17, we will act on the bill before an approval vote of the appointment of Prime Minister Goh-Gun which is scheduled for Feb.25.”

Seung-Mo Yoon Yeon-Wook Jung ysmo@donga.com jyw11@donga.com