- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 18, 2003

SEOUL — Former President Kim Dae-jung’s closest aide was arrested yesterday by an independent counsel probing charges that Mr. Kim “bought” his historic 2000 summit with communist North Korea.

Park Ji-won, Mr. Kim’s former chief of staff and the country’s culture and tourism minister, was taken to a jail outside Seoul after a Seoul court issued an arrest warrant.

The investigation focuses on $500 million that South Korea’s Hyundai conglomerate sent to North Korea shortly before the June 2000 summit.

Opposition leaders accused Mr. Kim’s administration of arranging some of the money to bribe the North to agree to the summit. Hyundai says it gave the money to the North to secure business rights there covering tourism, railways and an industrial park.

Mr. Park was accused of taking $12.5 million in bribes from Chung Mong-hun, a top Hyundai executive, and persuading a government-controlled bank to give loans to the group. If convicted, Mr. Park could face up to seven years in prison.

Mr. Park denied the accusations, telling South Korea’s YTN television, “I have no reason to receive such money from Hyundai.”

Mr. Park played a key role in arranging the summit, Mr. Kim’s crowning achievement that helped him win the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize. Mr. Kim left office in February after a five-year term.

Mr. Kim’s former economic adviser, Lee Ki-ho, was arrested last month on charges of persuading the state-run Korea Development Bank to extend the loans to Hyundai. The bank’s former governor also was arrested on charges of approving loans beyond the group’s credit limit.

Mr. Park received the bribes in a hotel bar in Seoul in April 2000, two months before the summit, after telling Hyundai that he needed “expenses to prepare for the summit,” the independent counsel said in a statement.

Together with Mr. Lee, Mr. Park later influenced the bank to give loans to Hyundai, it added.

The former president has said his government approved Hyundai’s money transfers to North Korea because they facilitated peace on the peninsula.

South Korean law forbids transfers of cash to the North without proper government approval. It remains unclear whether Mr. Kim’s aides bypassed formal government procedures to approve the money transfers.

No charges have been filed against Mr. Kim. He maintains that the government’s decision on Hyundai’s cash transfers should not be subject to judicial review.

Relations on the Korean Peninsula had improved vastly after the summit. But they deteriorated in Mr. Kim’s final year, especially after the United States said last October that North Korea admitted running a secret nuclear-weapons program.

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