Two Justice Department officials will travel to South Korea within the next few weeks to negotiate with prosecutors there about questioning accused Korean lobbyist Tongsun Park.
Benjamin R. Civiletti, head of the department's Criminal Division, said yesterday that he and Paul Michel, the attorney in charge of the South Korean influence-buying investigation, will make the trip in hopes of breaking the impasse between the two countries over Park's return.
Park was indicted last month on charges that he tried to bribe members of Congress while acting as an agent of the Korean government. he sent to Seoul shortly before theindictment and the Korean government has so far resisted U.S. requests to get him back.
Civiletti emphasized that the Justice Department has not abandoned its hopes of having Park returned to the United States to face charges. "We haven't given up a thing," he said, "We're just going over to talk."
Even meeting Korean officials to "discuss satisfactory terms" for talking to Park, however, is an indication of how important the Justice officials consider Park's testimony. Because of the nature of most of the cases under investigation, which involve alleged cash payments from Park to individual members of Congress, it seems unlikely that many further indictments can be brought without Park's testimony.
Only in the case of former Rep. Richard T. Hanna (D-Calif.), who was named unindicated co-conspirator in the Park indictment, is there clear evidence of large payments made by easily tracable checks.
The agreement for the Justice Department's trip to Seoul grew out of discussions over the past few weeks between Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance and Korean Foreign Minister Park Tong-jin, Civiletti said.
Representatives from the House and Senate ethics committees have been invited to accompany the Justice attorneys to Seoul, but have not decided whether to make the trip.
Leon Jaworski, the former Watergate special prosecutor who is special counsel to the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, said this week that he had turned down an earlier invitation to question Park in Seoul because there were barriers to a candid discussion with the witness.
In a telephone interview from his Houston office yesterday, Jaworski said he wanted to make sure this time that the Korean government would "enter into good-faith negotiations and just not make a show of talking about Park. There should at least be some indication that more will come out of it than talk."
Sen. Adlai E. Stevenson (D-III), chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, said through an aide yesterday that he too was undecided about making the trip. But he did say, "This evidence of cooperation . . . is most helpful."
Meanwhile, Hancho C. Kim, the Washington businessman who was indicted earlier this week for his alleged part in the South Korean lobbying campaign, appeared in U.S. District Court in Washington to plead innocent to charges of conspiracy and lying to a grand jury.
Kim was charged with receiving $60,000 in cash from the Korean Central Intelligence Agency for distribution to members of Congress. The indictment did not allege, however, that he ever made such payments.