UNITED NATIONS, April 20 -- The United Nations' special envoy to North Korea, Maurice F. Strong, decided Wednesday to step aside until U.N.-appointed investigators and federal prosecutors finish examining his financial ties to a South Korean lobbyist accused of trying to bribe U.N. officials.
The move comes less than a week after federal authorities charged Tongsun Park, a South Korean businessman, with lobbying U.N. officials as an "unregistered agent" of Saddam Hussein. A witness said Park in 1996 and 1997 invested $1 million in Iraqi funds in a Canadian company owned by the son of a high-ranking U.N. official, a federal investigator said.
Strong, a Canadian entrepreneur and environmentalist, acknowledged Monday that Park had invested money in a business he was "associated with" in 1997 and later advised him on his dealings with Pyongyang. Strong said he would cooperate with U.N.-appointed investigators and federal prosecutors probing the $64 billion U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq.
Strong, whose two sons are Canadian businessmen, has not said whether he is the high-ranking U.N. official cited by federal prosecutors. He declined to comment through his assistant at the United Nations, Kristina Mayo. Attempts to reach Strong's sons through Mayo were unsuccessful.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Strong, who is recovering from pneumonia in the Dominican Republic, informed U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan that "he will defer" any further work on North Korea "until the question of his association with Tongsun Park is clarified and resolved."
Annan said this week that he had been unaware of Strong's financial ties to Park, who was at the center of a congressional influence-peddling scandal in the 1970s. Annan is reviewing a policy that exempts senior officials who, like Strong, take on part-time assignments from disclosing potential financial conflicts of interest, Dujarric said.