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KOREA: Wiretapping implicates ex-presidents

Former president and top officials also held responsible for neglecting to address illegal wiretapping when it first surfaced six years ago

The Korea Times
Wednesday, July 27, 2005

By Lee Jin-woo

Seoul -- The wiretapping scandal, which has already pressured South Korean Ambassador to the U.S. Hong Seok-hyun to resign, is likely to put former presidents and their close aides in hot water.

According to reports, Park Ji-won, disgraced former presidential chief of staff, was aware of the tapes six years ago, and Chun Yong-taek, former National Intelligence Service (NIS) chief and defense minister, had a backdoor deal with Kong Un-yong, former head of the agency’s special wiretapping team, codenamed "Mirim," to cover up his own corruption scandal.

William Park, 58, a Korean-American businessman, now in the custody of prosecutors after being questioned by the anti-espionage agency, claimed in an interview with MBC on Tuesday that he visited Park, former minister of culture and tourism, and let him know about the existence of the tape.

The tape reportedly contains a secret discussion between Hong, then president of the Samsung Group-affiliated daily, the JoongAng Ilbo, and Lee Hak-soo, vice chairman of Samsung’s corporate restructuring office.

Park, however, said he did not give a copy of the tape to the former minister, Park. He said he received the tape from Kong and another former NIS agent, who was fired by the agency with Kong, to help get them reinstated.

They allegedly intended to take advantage of the situation. The former minister had uneasy relations with the vernacular daily which continued to criticize Park’s qualifications as a Cabinet minister.

Kong attempted to commit suicide at his house in Pundang, Kyonggi Province, after admitting his responsibility in leaking the tape in a hand-written statement on Tuesday.

"We thought we needed to provide politicians with information they were interested in," Park said.

Song Young-in, president of a group of former senior agents, has denounced the former NIS chief, Chun, who also served as lawmaker of the ruling Uri Party, for not punishing Kong after seizing some 200 tapes from him.

Most of those tapes were delivered to one of the close aides of former President Kim, the JoongAng Ilbo reported.

However, Chun denied such allegations, saying he cannot remember such an old story.

Another suspicion was raised by a local daily that the tape actually contained Hong’s remarks stating that former President Kim Dae-jung promised to help Samsung take over Kia Motors in return for slush funds, but it was omitted on the agency’s written report of the tape.

Hong allegedly said Kim’s party would help Samsung take over Kia if it announces its merger and acquisition plan, the Hankyoreh Shinmun reported. Kia was then struggling with financial difficulties and was later merged with Hyundai Motors.

In addition, former agents also claimed Kim Hyun-chul, the second son of former President Kim Young-sam, was behind thousands of eavesdropping cases during his father’s administration in the 1990s, reports said.

Kim Hyun-chul made use of his aides within the spy agency, mostly those who graduated from Kyonggi High School and Korea University, and actually took control of the agency’s wiretapping activities, according to the reports.

Rep. Min Byung-doo of the ruling party also raised suspicion that Kim Young-sam, his son and the spy agency maintained a secret connection by calling it a "big brother triangle," which was named after a totalitarian ruler in George Orwell’s well-known novel "1984."

A NIS official said the president’s son and other related people, including the former NIS chief Chun, are likely to be questioned during the agency’s already started investigation into the wiretapping scandal.

Kong and Kim Ki-sam, another former agent who first gave the tape to a MBC reporter, have said presidents and senior journalists of most major South Korean news media were wiretapped even during the Kim Dae-jung administration, indicating more wiretapping controversies may erupt.