- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 29, 2005

SEOUL — South Korea yesterday named Vice Foreign Minister Lee Tae-sik as its ambassador to the United States, to replace Hong Seok-hyun who resigned over his involvement in a corporate-political slush fund scandal.

Mr. Lee, a career diplomat, replaced Mr. Hong, who quit his post in July after a taped 1997 conversation between him and a top official from the Samsung Group was released to the press.

The conversation taped by intelligence officials led to suspicions that Mr. Hong acted as a courier for illegal Samsung donations to presidential candidates.

Mr. Lee, 60, who formerly served as Seoul’s ambassador to Israel and Britain and well as first secretary at its embassy in Washington, will assume his post by the end of October.

Samsung, the once-mighty chaebol, or family-run conglomerate, is facing a political hurricane over the scandal.

Mr. Hong is the brother-in-law of Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee, 64, who is having medical checkups in the United States — a common refuge for Korean businessmen or politicians under attack at home.

A Samsung spokesman declined to say when the chairman might return, or to comment on the company’s current situation.

In Korea, government assaults on chaebol are nothing new.

“This type of pressure is par for the course for leading chaebol. When the next government comes in, it will be someone else’s turn,” Mike Breen, Seoul-based author of “The Koreans.”

After the late Hyundai Group head, Chung Ju-young, unsuccessfully ran for president in 1992, he was subsequently jailed for election fraud and the company was broken up.

In 1999, Daewoo Group head Kim Woo-joong fled the country as his group sank into what was then the world’s biggest bankruptcy. The group was dissolved.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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