The Justice Department said last night that after eight weeks of intense negotiations. South Korean businessman Tongsun Park has agreed to come to the United States to testify at criminal trials, under full immunity, about his alleged influence peddling among U.S. congressmen.
The announcement of the terms of Park's return drew an angry response from the special counsel of the House ethics committee, which is looking into alleged Korean influence-buying efforts. House special counsel Leon Jaworski criticized the deal with Park as "inadequate and unacceptable."
Assistant Attorney Genereal Benjamin R. Civiletti said at a news conference that Park would first be interrrogated in Seoul starting Jan. 6 by a [WORD ILLEGIBLE] of officials from the Justice [WORD ILLEGIBLE] and the FBI. Civiletti said [WORD ILLEGIBLE] he also has invited [WORD ILLEGIBLE] of the ethics committees to [WORD ILLEGIBLE] as observers during the two weeks of planned interrogation in South Korea.
Park could be returned to the United States for testimony at the criminal trials of Hancho C. Kim and former Rep. Richard T. Hanna (D-Calif.) within eight to 10 weeks, Civiletti said. Kim and Hanna are the only two persons besides Park to be indicted so far in the influence peddling scandal.
Kim, a naturalized U.S. citizen, allegedly received $600,000 from the Korean Central Intelligence Agency to pay and entertain U.S. officials; Hanna was indicted on 40 counts of bribery, conspiracy, mail fraud and failure to register as a foreign agent in connection with his alleged part in helping bribe officials to take favorable actions toward South Korea.
Park who has a 36-count indictment against him, was promised under the terms of the Justice Department agreement to have the charges dropped once he has completed his testimony in any trials stemming from the Korean probe. Civiletti said that under the terms of the agreement Park would also be provided with full immunity from any other criminal charges.
The pact leaves Park open to civil suits here, however, including possible income tax charges and any actions that might arise out of a probe by the Securities and Exchange Commission into Korean influence-buying attempts.
In announcing the agreement, Civiletti said: "We are confident we now have a practical solution to this matter."
If the past, however, Civiletti has noted that even with Park's testimony against Kim and Hanna additional backup evidence will be needed. "We'll need strong corroborating evidence of a pattern of events," he said after yesterday's news conference.
Jaworski and senior staff members of the House ethics committee charged yesterday that the Justice agreement falls short on two counts. The agreement only requires Park to testify here on admissions he may make during his deposition in Seoul under what Jaworski called "the watchful eye of the Korean government."
Jaworski and Peter A. White, deputy special counsel to the House committee, said the agreement also removes the pressure from the South Korean government to make available other South Koreans who may have had a part in alleged influence-buying here. Two of those mentioned by Jaworski and White are former South Korean Ambassador Kim Dong Jo and former KCIA station chief in the United States, Yang Du Hwon.
White said yesterday that the House committee intends to subpoena Park for testimony as soon as he returns to the United States even though Justice officials may request them to accept transcripts of Park's deposition instead.
Civiletti said a last-minute holdup in the announcement - which had been scheduled for Thursday - was due to Justice Department insistence that Park sign a commitment that he would be bound by the memorandum of understanding drawn up during the negotiations.
Park and his attorneys raised and then re-raised objections on several crucial terms of the agreement, Civiletti said. For example, he said Park had disagreed with Justice and State Department negotiators in Seoul over how often he could be required to return here for testimony. The agreement states that Park will be available as often as required for trial testimony.
Park also objected to the Justice Department requirement that he be questioned with a lie detector. Civiletti said the polygraph was necessary to ensure that Park's testimony is accurate, and the requirement was kept in the agreement.
The agreement ends eight weeks of delicate diplomatic negotiations on an issue that threatened to impair relations between the two countries.
It also promises to give new life to the stalled Justice Department investigation. The year-and-a-half-old criminal inquiry has focused on the activities of Park and Kim and has been bogged down without Park's testimony.
Only one past member of Congress, Hanna, has been indicted so far. But Justice officials have said privately that they believe a half-dozen indictments of former or current members of Congress are possible if Park's truthful testimony is obtained.
The Justice Department investigation is known to have looked closely at Park's relationship with former Reps. Cornelius Gallagher (D-N.J.), Otto E. Passman (D-La.), Edwin Edwards (D-La.) and William E. Minshall (R-Ohio).
Hanna's lawyer, Charles McNelis, said yesterday that we welcomed Park's return. "It's my client's position that he and Tongsun Park had a business relationship. And it is my understanding that Park told that to the government. If that is so, they the government prosecutors don't have a case."
Hanna was indicted in October on charges he accepted more than $100,000 from Park as part of a scheme to influence members of Congress to aid South Korea. Hanna has denied the charges.
His trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 9 but McNelis has asked that it be postponed. "We'd like Park as our witness," McNelis said.
The criminal indictments and recent congressional hearings have documented earlier press reports about Park's alleged activities as an agent for the South Korean government. According to the congressional testimony, the South Korean government arranged for Park to receive millions of dollars in commissions on the sale of U.S. rice to Korea over the past several years.
Park was known in Washington during that time as a flamboyant entertainer whose lavish parties attracted the likes of then Vice President Ford and current House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.).
About 20 members of Congress have acknowledged receiving legal campaign contributions from Park over the years. It has been alleged that Park also gave secret cash payments to some members. Federal investigators believe that Park often exaggerated the number and size of these secret gifts when he reported back to the KCIA.
Park left the United States for London in the fall of 1976 after The Washington Post began reporting details of The Korean government consistenly paign. He returned to Korea last August, shortly before he was secretly indicted by a federal grand jury here.
The Carter administration has been negotiating for his return ever since. The Korean government consistenly has denied any connection with Park. But in October, Korean officials agreed to meet with a team of Justice Department prosecutors, led by Civiletti, head of the Criminal Division, to discuss the Park case.
Those talks broke down, however, and there was an immediate backlash in Congress, which threatened to result in a cutoff of U.S. aid to Korea.
Since then, the administration has sent the Koreans increasingly strong signals about the danger the Park case presented to continued friendly relations between the two countries.
While the Justice Department's and the public's attention have been focused on the diplomatic battle over Park's testimony, congressional investigators have emphasized they also want to question Korean diplomats, such as former ambassador Kim Dong Jo.
Kim was identified in October hearings before the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, also known as the ethnics committee, as having made a cash payment to at least one House member. In addition, his wife was named as having given envelopes filled with cash to the wives of two congressmen visiting Seoul. CAPTION: Picture 1, [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] Picture 2, Civiletti: Even with Park's testimony "we'll need strong corroborating evidence." By Larry Morris - The Washington Post