- The Washington Times - Monday, August 4, 2003

SEOUL — The South Korean government said yesterday the suicide 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 jumped 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.

North Korea expressed condolences over the death and said it will suspend a joint tourism project with South Korea, according to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.

“Due to the death of Chung Mong-hun … we will temporarily suspend Diamond Mountain tourism project” as a show of respect, the agency said. Hyundai-Asan manages a financially troubled tourism project at the North’s Diamond Mountain resort that began in 1998.

KCNA said Mr. Chung’s death was not a suicide but a murder by South Korean politicians who oppose inter-Korean reconciliation, and that joint projects “face danger that nobody can predict.”

However, it is doubtful that destitute North Korea would turn its back on economic contacts with South Korea, one of the communist country’s few sources of revenue.

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.

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.

Mr. Chung was on trial on charges stemming from assertions 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 in 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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