Accused South Korean agent Tongsun Park has told Justice Department prosecutors in Seoul that he gave members of Congress "hundreds of thousands" of dollars over the years, an observer at his interrogation said yesterday.
The Justice Department official heading the American team implied, in a separate phone interview from Seoul, that Park's testimony could lead to a "handful" of further indictments in the Korean influence-buying investigation.
These were the highlights from the first day's private session with the wealthy Washington rice dealer who is trading his testimony for the dismissal of a 36-count felony indictment against him.
In telephone interviews from Seoul, Benjamin R. Civiletti, the assistant attorney general heading the Justice Department team, and Rep. Bruce F. Caputo (R-N.Y.) both expressed satisfaction with Park's candor in the five-hour "survey" of questions covering all the members of Congress alleged to have had dealings with Park.
Caputo said Park had acknowledged giving something of value to about half of the dozens of House and Senate members he was questioned about. This ranged from "trivial gifts to staggering amounts of money," he said, with the totals of amounting to "hundreds of thousands of dollars."
The freshman member of the House committee investigating members connections with Korea refused to indentify the recipients of Park's generosity. He said only that Park had mentioned giving money to persons whose names "were new to me."
In a separate phone conversation, Civiletti said that Park had both "corroborated evidence against some individuals and in other cases said he had made no payments or gifts of any significant value."
Civiletti declined to say directly that Park's testimony would lead to more indictments of present or former members of Congress. But when asked that, he said, "We think we have made some good progress. He has given us material information that comports with our evidence in a handful of matters."
So far, only former Rep. Richard T. Hanna (D-Calif.) has been indicted in connection with the Korean lobbying campaign on Capitol Hill.
Knowledgable Justice Department officials have said privately that they thought they might get as many as half a dozen additional indictments with Park's testimony.
Caputo emphasized that while he was pleased with Park's first-day testimony, he still did not think the Korean government was cooperating fully with his committee's investigation.
Leon Jaworski, special counsel to the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, has vocally criticized the Justice Department's arrangement for obtaining Park's testimony, making it clear he wanted accesss to Korean diplomats as well.
"As long as Leon Jaworski says that the Korean government is not cooperating to the extent it should, there will be trouble in Congress," Caputo said.
He added that he was concerned that U.S. Ambassador to Korea Richard L. Sneider was not supporting the congressional requests. "He just thinks it is unrealistic to think the South Koreans will allow their former ambassadors to be questioned." Caputo said.
If necessary, Caputo said, he will again sponsor legislation to cut off U.S. economic aid to South Korea. A similar amendment he sponsored last fall was narrowly defeated. He said the committee was especially interested in talking to former Ambassadors Kim Kong Jo and Hahm Pyong-choon and former Korean Central Intelligence Agency Director Lee Hu Rak.
The House committee is convinced that Park was just one of a series of Korean agents who made payoffs to members of Congress. In testimony before the committee last fall, former Ambassador Kim was identified as having delivered an envelope stuffed with $100 bills to a Kansas House member who later returned the money.
Caputo and Civiletti agreed that Park did not appear to be inhibited by the presence of Korean officials during the questioning.
Civiletti noted that the American team insisted on having the room arranged so that Park sat across the table from the U.S. prosecutors, with FBI agents seated behind them. "He would have to turn sharply to look at the Korean prosecutors," he said.
Park's responses to an initial lie detector check on his testimony were also satisfactory, Civiletti added.
Asked about Jaworski's continued criticism of the Justice Department's bargain for Park's testimony, Civiletti prohibit the House from subpoenaing Park when he returned to the United States for trials.
He added that he plans to make the full text of the agreements public when he returns to the United States next week. And he said that the Justice Department will be able to question Park further on new issues when he comes back for trials.