The former director of the South Korean Central Intelligence Agency told a House subcommittee yesterday that he let businessman Tongsun Park use $3 million in South Korean government funds in 1967 to finance The George Town Club in Washington as a way of gaining access to and influence with U.S. officials.
Kim Hyung Wook, who was head of the KCIA from 1963 to 1969, described his government's backing of Park's club as part of a wide-ranging, first-hand account of the origins of what became a multimillion-dollar South Korean effort to influence U.S. policy.
Park, who left the United States for London last fall, is still owner of record of The George Town Club.
Tongsun Park had requested the financial aid in 1967 through a KCIA agent at the South Korean embassy in Washington, Kim said. The KCIA chief said he then ordered the Korean Exchange Bank to transfer the $3 million to an American bank, where Park used it as collateral for the loans he needed to fund the club's operation.
The George Town Club became a favorite gathering place for members of Congress and other Washington dignitaries. Tongsun Park, who is a central figure in continuing congressional and Justice Department investigations of the South Korean influence-buying campaign, sponsored many lavish parties there. Guests included such prominent politicians as then-House Speaker Carl Albert (D-Okla.), then-majority Leader Thomas P. (Tip)O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.), scores of other representatives and senators, and administration leaders such as former Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird, Attorney General William B. Saxbe, and then-Vice President Gerald R. Ford.
Kim said that in return for the government financial assistance, Tongsun Park volunteered to entertain politicans who might be useful to South Korea's interests in the United States. He said he did not inform President Park Hung Hee of the arrangement on the $3 million but did notify Prime Minister Chung Ti Kwon.
Kim, 52, has been living in exile in New Jersey since 1973, but said he has kept in close touch with many of his former KCIA subordinates at the embassy and back in Korea. He is considered a credible witness by the House International Organizations Subcommittee, which is conducted an investigation of U.S.-Korea relations.
Several other parts of Kim's sworn testimony yesterday also contradicted official South Koream government denials that Tongsun Park and others were illegal agents in the United States. For example:
In 1971 Tongsun Park gave him a list containing the names of "15 to 20" U.S. congressmen that had been furnished then-KCIA Director Lee Hu Rak, Kim said. Park was complaining at the time because $200,000 in cash earmarked for delivery to the officials had been "snatched" by a rival South Korean agent.
Kim said he had burned that list before fleeing Seoul two years later and said he could not remember any of the names on it. In a remark that caused the standing-room-only crowd to chuckle, he said that while there are only a few common names in Korea, "American names are so diverse I can't tell one from the other."
While KCIA director, he also helped Tongsun Park exchange $100,000 worth of Korean currency for dollars on the black market. He then had the money shipped to Park in the United States through the embassy diplomatic pouch. He also helped Park financially by arranging to make him the exclusive agent on sale of American rice to South Korea.
In the latter instance he said two American congressmen backed Park's request for assistance by saying they could help see that the U.S. Congress supported modernization of the South Korean armed forces.
Washington businessman Hancho Kim was picked as a replacement for Tongsun Park in 1975 after Park became the subject of unfavorable newspaper articles. Kim said that Hancho Kim was shipped $300,000 in cash on each of two separte occasions through the embassy diplomatic pouch.
Kim said he "understood" that Hancho Kim had used only about $100,000 for the lobbying he was supposed to be doing, and kept the rest for himself. Hancho Kim has denied those charges.
Bo Hi Pak, former embassy military attache who is now head of the Korean Cultural Freedom Foundation and top aide to Korean evangelist Sun Myung Moon, was not a KCIA agent, Kim said. But Pak did visit Kim frequently in Seoul and asked his aid in starting the foundation's anti-Communist broadcasts on Radio of Free Asia and in easing travel difficulties for the foundation's Little Angels dance troupe.
The former KCIA director also made the first public disclosure of the names of KCIA agents who kidnaped Kim Dae Jung, the opposition party political leader, in Tokyo in August of 1973. South Korean President Park denied at the time that his government had any connection with the kidnaping. But Kim Hyung Wook said that the kidnaping was directed by his successor at the KCIA, Lee Hue Rak.
Kim also testified that the American Central Intelligence Agency had cooperated with the KCIA in the mid-1960s when the Korean agency wanted to take three alleged North Korean trained spied back to Seoul from the United States to "confess."
KCIA funding of a pro-government newspaper in Washington, and an academic think tank in Silver Spring, Md., were also described by Kim as being part of the government's efforts to influence Korean-Americans and U.S. scholars. He said that funds for the Silver Spring research institute were later laundered through the Korean Traders Association in New York City. The Korean Traders Association is a registered agent of the Korean government that has given Harvard University $1 million to sponsor an academic chair.
Kim also alluded briefly to the practice whereby American corporations wishing to do business in Korea were required to make a "connection" with the finance chairman of Park Chung Hee's ruling party before they were invited into the country. Gulf Oil Corp. has acknowledged making $3 million in "donations" to the Park government in the late 1960s.
Kim testified amid heavy security because of threats against his life, Rep. Donald Fraser (D-Minn.), the subcommittee chairman, said. In a 29-page statement read by an interpreter, Kim said that he was making the voluntary public appearance because he felt President Park should resign and because he felt newspaper revelations about the South Korean influence-buging scandal had contributed to President Carter's decision to withdraw American ground troops from the Korean peninsula. He said he felt the troops withdrawal would lead to war with North Korea.
The Korean government called Kim Hyung Wook a traitor after he made his first public disclosure about the South Korean influence-buying campaign in an interview with The New York Times earlier this month.
In yesterday's testimony he added many details about his relationship with Tongsun Park. He said he first met Park in 1966 after his agents had picked up the Washington businessman for questioning in Seoul because he had been bragging that he was a Korean ambassador and was related to President Park.
A few days later, Kim added, he met Tongsun Park at dinner with Prime Minister Chung who told him that Park was an old friend and "not such a bad guy." Chung asked Kim to assist Tongsun Park if he could come related the exiled intelligence officer.
Throughout his testimony Kim insisted that there was no influence-buying campaign in the United States while he was KCIA director through late 1969.
He said he felt South Korean President Park Chung Hee's lobbying efforts increased in the early 1970s after the first U.S. troops were withdrawn by then-President Nixon and after President Park had seized "emergency" powers in October, 1972.
Kim also said he felt the U.S. Embassy must have been aware of Tongsun Park's activities during the 1970s because of Park's frequent travel to Korea with members of Congress.