Tongsun Park was back in Washington recently entertaining some of his friends from yesterday at his old haunt, the private George Town Club. The invited came for an elegant dinner served on English pewter and Sheffield silver. But Washington being a town of tenuous allegiances for the politically troubled like Park, it now seems that some of the guests are having second thoughts.
"Well, honey, I just don't know what you're talking about," said lawyer Fred Korth when asked about his presence at the party. "Some people really do lie now, don't they?" Korth made one of the toasts at the party, according to several guests.
"I was invited, but I was in New York and didn't go," said Garnett Stackelberg, a society columnist for the Palm Beach Daily News. Four guests said they had seen her at the party.
"Obviously, I would be just as happy if you didn't want to talk about this," said Rep. David Bowen (D-Miss.), who is not running for reelection. He also made a toast.
"I was there--Tongsun is a friend of mine and I'd be a superficial person if I turned my back," said one lawyer. And then he asked that his named not be used.
"Not again!" said Tandy Dickinson, Park's former girlfriend, when asked about the party, the first large gathering Park has hosted here in years. "Why don't you just leave him alone? He is a harmless person . . . Everything was taken from him here--his shoes, his toothbrush . . . And he still loves America."
When Park was reached by phone at his home in Seoul, South Korea, and told that some of his friends were less than forthcoming about their presence at his party, he said: "Oh, be kind to my friends. I don't care what you say about me."
In 1977, Korean businessman, lobbyist and government agent Tongsun Park was facing a 36-count felony indictment for alledged criminal activties that included influence peddling, bribery, racketeering and failure to register as a KCIA agent.
Known as Koreagate, it became a political scandal of huge proportions. Several congressman and senators were named in the charges. Simultaneously, two palatial Embassy Row homes, three luxury cars and all of Park's personal property--including his toothbrush and shoes--were seized by the Internal Revenue Service until a $4.5 million tax dispute could be settled.
The indictment against Park was dropped in exchange for his testimony in the bribery trials of members of Congress. The tax case was tried in April 1981, and Park is now waiting for a ruling.
He had been prominent on the social pages because of his lavish parties, but this put him on the front pages. Many of his political friends ran for cover, and Park lost his power base. He left Washington.
"I would never abandon Washington," said Park, 47, during a half-hour phone interview. "Washington is a marvelous city for someone like myself. Where else could a foreigner, an outsider like myself, do the things I was able to do?"
Where else could somebody like Park try to make a comeback?
The June 15 party, with a mixed-bag of people from political, social and business Washington, was not unlike many dinners Park had thrown in his heyday at the George Town Club, the private restaurant he opened in 1966. According to the federal indictment, the Korean CIA aided Park in establishing the club.
About 36 guests met in the faintly lit, wood-paneled club for early cocktails and a dinner of fish salad, beef and fresh raspberries. Park, Korth and Bowen toasted. Everyone talked of warmth and friendship.
Among others at the dinner, according to interviews with 10 who attended, were Albert Grasselli, a representatative of Rockwell International; OAS Secretary General Alejandro Orfila; socialites Rose Marie Bogley and Margaret Hodges; Park's lawyer Henry Zapruder; Harriet Ivey, director of development for the Washington Opera; lawyer Henry Dudley; Chick Cudlip, a representative of the Crysler Corp., and his date, Britty Page; Constantine and Garnett Stackelberg; Gen. Donald Dawson.
Park, who graduated from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and who returns to Washington every couple of months to visit friends and do some business, says he's completely recovered from his experiences in this city.
"I'm not bitter about anything," said Park. "Your enemies want you to be miserable, so you're doing a disservice to yourself by getting upset and playing into their hands."
"After a while you have to stomach so much nonsense that you reach new levels of tolerance when these things happen. You learn to rise above the pettiness or you simply do not survive . . . I made it through the help of my friends, God . . . and my mother . . . She is truly my best friend . . . The fact that I survived proved I was right."
There is no evidence that Park has sufferedfinancially because of his political troubles. He says he spends his time between Korea, London, the Dominican Republic--where he owns homes--and Washington. Park is active in a wide variety of projects, he says, including the family supermarket chain of 750 stores, which was started in Korea in 1975.
Parkington Corp., Park's London-based umbrella company, deals in international trade, primarily commodities and petroleum products.
Park and his family also run the Soong Eui Educational Foundation in Korea, five private schools for girls ranging from kindergarten through high school. The foundation, says Park, is also heavily involved in Korean cultural activities. When he is not globe-trotting, Park says he dabbles in "amateur violin playing."
"I love music and culture," he said. "There was so much the press never knew about me."
Park said the recent party at the George Town Club was nothing new, that he has had many parties, though smaller, since leaving Washington.
"It's the only chance I get to gather all my good friends together," he said.
But a few moments later, Park commented further on friends and friendships.
"I'm a loner, and I don't have many close friends," he said. "Therefore I never gave anyone a chance to disappoint me."
"I am terribly happy now. I have reached an age where I know what I want and I know my limitations. I think I can say that I am finally at peace with myself."