- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 16, 2006

Korean convicted

A U.S. federal court last week convicted former South Korean businessman Tongsun Park on conspiracy charges relating to the U.N. oil-for-food program, saying he attempted to lobby on behalf of Saddam Hussein without declaring his intentions to the U.S. government.

It is the first U.S. prosecution related to the U.N. program, although more trials are expected.

Park, 71, could serve up to five years in prison when he is sentenced in late October.

The businessman, a familiar face from the so-called “Koreagate” scandal of the late 1970s, was accused of trying to bribe Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who was the U.N. secretary-general, to lift the global sanctions imposed on Iraq after the 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Prosecutor Stephen Miller said Park traveled regularly to Baghdad during that period, often leaving the country with bags of cash to be used to further Iraq’s cause.

The $35 million U.N.-sanctioned investigation into the oil-for-food program revealed a plot to bribe the U.N. chief, but found no evidence that he accepted money.

At least three other U.S. prosecutions are pending, while Australia, India and France soon will try their own officials on charges of steering contracts to favored bidders or other wrongdoing in relation to the seven-year program.

Asian preference

There was rejoicing in Asian capitals this week after President Bush unexpectedly confirmed the region’s demand that it be given preference in fielding the next U.N. secretary-general.

U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton, the administration’s most prominent spokesman on U.N. affairs, has long said that Washington would look at anyone, regardless of nationality, with the skills and qualities for the job.

But Mr. Bush put a narrower point on that in response to reporters’ questions.

“The criterion I’m for is somebody who wants to spread liberty and enhance the peace, do difficult things like confront tyranny, worry about the human condition, blow the whistle on human rights violations,” he said.

“As I understand it, traditionally regions rotate, and we’re really looking in the Far East right now to be the secretary-general,” the president told reporters from Russia, Japan, Italy and Germany.

Asked to clarify, he said, “Asia, yes,” but refused to be more specific about candidates or nations. It is a long-standing U.S. policy not to publicly state preferences for particular candidates or countries to fill U.N. vacancies.

Four candidates are in the running to succeed Kofi Annan when his term expires at the end of December. South Korea and Thailand have named or will nominate senior government ministers, while India has endorsed a career U.N. official and Sri Lanka a former government minister with U.N. experience.

Still others are expected to step delicately into in the ring, especially now that the Security Council is preparing to start straw polls later this month.

Mr. Bush’s remarks brought a ray of optimism to Seoul, which has announced, but not formally nominated, the candidacy of South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon.

Chosun Ilbo, the leading Korean newspaper, trumpeted last week: “Ban is the only one from the Far East.”

Asia is the largest regional group in the U.N. system, comprising 54 nations spread across one-third of the globe and embracing widely varied ethnic and religious groups as well as political and economic systems.

Mr. Bush pledged to work closely with “friends and allies” to come up with the best candidate, and said his administration would accept a Muslim candidate.

Diplomats hope to reach consensus on a new secretary-general by autumn.

Betsy Pisik may be reached by e-mail at bpisik@washingtontimes.com.

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