The South Korean government has indicated that it might accept a compromise plan to bring Tongsun Park before congressional committees for testimony in the influence-buying case on Capitol Hill, according to knowledgeable sources here.
The plan, first outlined by American officials in Washington, calls for the accused South Korean businessman to appear first in an executive session and later this year, after court trials are concluded, in a public congressional hearing under ground rules still to be negotiated.
The South Korean government is said to want rules established that would prevent the questioning from going into acts of its present officials who may have been implicated in the case. Further, the Seoul government is described as adamantly opposed to any congressional demand to question two of its former ambassadors to Washington.
The Justice Department is now questioning Park here, under a South Korean-U.S. agreement, about the alleged bribery of congressmen as part of a scheme of assure continued U.S. support for this country.
Until now, the South Korean government has opposed congressional efforts to obtain his direct testimony, but it is under continuing pressure to cooperate with the committees or risk the loss of military aid as the withdrawal of U.S. ground forces gets under way this year.
It was understood that the government now looks more favorably on some form of congressional questioning if it occurs under acceptable ground rules.
As outlined here, the plan calls for Park to make himself available to the committees first for questioning in executive session. Then, as provided under the current agreement, he would testify in open court in any case brought by the Justice Department.
After the trials, Park would appear in an open public session to testify on a restricted number of topics that would be agreed on in advance. One of the conditions proposed is that he not be questioned about present South Korean officials.
A rule governing his testimony before Justice Department officials now in Seoul prohibits questions about present officials, except about acts that took place in the United States.
As explained here, the proposed sequence of hearings would get around one of the congressional rules that prohibits testimony about members of Congress in open hearings without prior discussion in executive sessions.
The post-trial hearings without public hearing could avoid another objection: that Park's testimony might also prejudice cases against those already charged with accepting bribes.
It is now known whether Park would accept such a plan if the government eventually gives its approval. His attorney, William Hundley, has said Park is willing to appear before congressional committees in executive session but he has opposed public testimony.
Leon Jaworski, counsel to the House Ethics Committee, has said he favors a resolution threatening South Korea with a loss of U.S. aid unless it makes Park and others, including at least one of the former ambassadors, available for questioning.
The government here, it was understood, will resist any effort to have the former ambassadors called to testify under any circumstances. The government is said to feel that requiring them to waive their diplomatic immunity would be an unacceptable surrender to congressional committes.
Under the agreements negotiated with the South Korean government, Congress will have access to as much of Park's testimony here as the Justice Department chooses to give it.
One section of an agreement says that "relevant portions" of the Seoul transcripts "may" be provided to congressional committees.
Another section, disclosed this week, provides that Park may be questioned at times here "off-the-record," meaning that his responses would not be included in the transcript.One source said today that section was included only to facilitate certain "mechanical" parts of the questioning, not the substantive parts. Another source said there has been no off-the-record questioning so far in the Justice Department's interrogation.