- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2003

SEOUL Former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung is facing a criminal investigation under a new law to investigate charges that he purchased a summit with North Korea in 2000 with a $500 million payment to the communist state.
Under the law, President Roh Moo-hyun should appoint an independent counsel to lead a formal investigation into the "cash-for-summit" scandal.
The country's ruling party, which was founded by Mr. Kim, angrily reacted yesterday to Mr. Roh's endorsement of the bill, expressing concerns that the special investigation would ensnare Mr. Kim.
The Millennium Democratic Party, now ruled by Mr. Roh, had called for the new president to exercise his power to veto the bill. But Mr. Roh, who took office late last month, dismissed those concerns and approved the law Friday night. The law went into effect Saturday.
The payoff scandal has been a burden on Mr. Roh, who was elected after pledging to follow in Mr. Kim's footsteps by seeking inter-Korean reconciliation.
Mr. Roh said he had decided not to exercise his power to veto, saying the opposition party had agreed to limit the scope of the investigation in consideration of inter-Korean relations.
After Mr. Roh's endorsement, the ruling and opposition parties opened negotiations yesterday to determine the length and scope of the probe. The country's main lawyers group also started the process of selecting independent counsel candidates. Officials said the investigation would begin in the middle of next month.
During the 100-day-long investigation, the special counsel would investigate Mr. Kim, who admitted that he was aware of illegal payments by the country's Hyundai Business Group to North Korea just ahead of the summit in June 2000.
The investigation also will involve key presidential staff, the country's intelligence agency and state-run banks.
The conservative opposition party has suspected that Mr. Kim and his aides engineered Hyundai's secret transfer of $500 million to secure the first-ever inter-Korean summit, which helped Mr. Kim win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000.
The scandal erupted after government auditors found that Hyundai secretly transferred about $200 million, obtained from a South Korean state-run bank, to North Korea in June 2000.
In the face of mounting public anger, Mr. Kim offered a public apology last month for the scandal, saying he allowed the money to be paid to North Korea though it violated existing law.
Citing the "peculiarities" of the inter-Korean relationship, he said initiatives sometimes must be conducted "outside the framework of the law."
Secret financial aid to North Korea is illegal under the strict anti-communist National Security Law that bans unauthorized contacts with the world's only Stalinist state. But Mr. Kim said the cash payments were made as part of business deals between Hyundai and North Korea. He said the money was not related to the summit talks.
Analysts say the special investigation also may lead to strained ties with North Korea because Pyongyang has said it would freeze relations if South Korea carries out an investigation into the payoff scandal.
Lee Hahn-koo, an opposition lawmaker, said last week that since the Kim Dae-jung government was inaugurated five years ago, it had provided $3.3 billion, including $900 million in cash, saying the funds were being used to develop its nuclear weapons.

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