- The Washington Times - Monday, August 4, 2003

Hyundai officer

worked in North

SEOUL — The South Korean government said yesterday the death of Hyundai executive Chung Mong-hun would not affect projects such as construction of an industrial park in the North, as well as cruise-boat tours to a scenic mountain on its east coast.

“The projects led by Hyundai-Asan, such as Kaesong Industrial Complex and Diamond Mountain tourism project, are pushed not at an individual level but systematically,” Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun told KBS radio in Seoul.

“So I don’t think his death will have much impact on inter-Korean projects,” he said.

Mr. Chung, who fell to his death from an office window, was the face of South Korean business in North Korea. He traveled to the communist state often, even posing for photographs with its reclusive leader, Kim Jong-il.

Mr. Chung, 54, was more than an entrepreneur angling for a foothold in a risky, untapped market. His projects are central to South Korea’s efforts to ease tension with North Korea amid a standoff over its suspected development of nuclear weapons.

North Korea said yesterday that U.S.-proposed multilateral talks on the dispute would begin “soon” in Beijing. South Korea said they would start early next month.

Mr. Chung’s company, Hyundai-Asan, had been losing heavily on investments in North Korea, and he was embroiled in a scandal over the historic 2000 summit between the two Koreas.

Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert in Seoul, also said Mr. Chung’s death will not have much impact because the fundamentals of inter-Korean economic plans already have been set.

There could, however, be a readjustment period. North Koreans had developed a personal rapport with Mr. Chung, who took over projects in the North after the death in 2001 of his father, Hyundai’s founder, Chung Ju-yung. Born to a peasant family in North Korea, the senior Mr. Chung had a passion for investing there.

At a June 30 groundbreaking ceremony for the industrial park in Kaesong, Communist officials treated the younger Mr. Chung with deference, and they are accustomed to dealing with Hyundai, a major source of revenue for the impoverished country.

In notes he hurriedly scribbled to his family and Kim Yoon-kyu, his deputy, Mr. Chung urged continuing his North Korean projects and asked that his ashes be scattered over Diamond Mountain. But it’s not clear who will take over the company, and whether the new leadership will be as eager to pursue projects that show little sign of making money.

Mr. Chung’s links to North Korea landed him in trouble that some speculate may have pushed him to take his life.

He was on trial on charges stemming from allegations that Hyundai-Asan helped former President Kim Dae-jung’s government secretly pay North Korea $100 million to agree to the 2000 summit.

Mr. Chung was indicted on charges of doctoring company books to hide the money transfers. If convicted, he could have faced up to three years in prison.

He was also accused of embezzling $12.5 million of company funds to bribe government officials and politicians to win political and financial support for his companies and North Korean projects.

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