Former Rep. Otto E. Passman (D-La.) was indicted by a federal grand jury here yesterday on charges that he received $213,000 in cash from Korean businessman Tongsun Park in return for urging the South Korean government to buy Louisiana rice through Park.
In addition, the 26 pages of criminal charges accuse Passman of putting pressure on Department of Agriculture and State Department Officials to approve the financing of the rice sales to South Korea through the federally funded Food for Peace program.
Passman, 77 years old and in a New Orlean hospital because of "mental and physical exhaustion," was unavailable for comment on the charges. However, Passman, the former chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that held a virtual veto over foreign aid, has consistently denied receiving illegal payments from Park.
Passman is the second former congressman to be indicted in connection with the Korean influence-buying scandal. Former Rep. Richard T. Hanna (D-Calif.) pleaded guilty two weeks ago to a conspiracy charge involving payments he received from Park totaling $200,000.
Park, who has been granted immunity from prosecution, has reportedly testified that he gave $750,000 in cash and gifts to about 30 members of Congress. He received approximately $8 million in commissions on the rice exports he handled from the United States to South Korea, according to government figures.
The indictment against Passman - who served in Congress between 1947 and 1977 - charges that he entered into a conspiracy with Park between Jan. 16 and Jan. 22, 1972, in Southeast Asia to promote Park's rice export business.
In return, according to the seven-count indictment, Park agreed to "pay Passman sums of money derived from the commissions to be earned on the rice sales by Tongsun Park at times and in amounts to be specified by Passman."
Cash payments to Passman ranging in size from $10,000 to $50,000 were made on at least eight occasions between 1972 and 1974, and Park bought jewelry and watches from Passman in 1975 at "substantially inflated prices" to account for another $20,000, the charges said.
The indictment charges Passman with conspiracy to defraud the United States of the proper performance of government officials, three counts of bribery and three counts of receiving an illegal gratuity.
The settings of the alleged illegal acts included in the indictment range from Seoul to Hong Kong to the Joan of Arc Co. in St. Francisville, La., to a U.S Capitol dining room, to various government offices in Washington.
The first purchase made by Park after his agreement with Passman was an order of 1,000 cases of sweet potatoes from the St. Francisville firm, according to the indictment.
Passman specifically asked Park to make the purchase personally "in order to help Passman's re-election campaign" - apparently by showing Passman's influence by showing Passman's influence inselling goods produced in his congressional district, the indictment alleged.
Shortly thereafter, Passman met with the Korean ambassador to Washington, Gov-elect Edwin Edwards of Louisiana, then congressional candidate and now U.S Rep. John B. Breaux (D-la.) and others to urge the Korean ambassador to buy more Louisiana rice, the indictement continued.
Within a week, the indictment alleged, park paid $30,000 in cash to Passman in three installments and Passman issued a press release announcing that "Korean ambassador Tongsun Park" would tour sweet potato plants and rice mills in Louisiana.
At around the same time period, the indictment continued, Passman had begun attempts to influence the manner in which the Agriculture Department and the State Department AID program would deal with Korean rice sales.
He also suggested to Agriculture Department officials that Park be used to work out a compromise in a dispute between the Korean government and the department, a suggestion that was accepted, the indictment said.
Later in 1972, Passman sent a telegram to the Korean ambassador in Washington saying "Korean stubborness [sic] on the rice purchase is on the verge of bringing about my defeat for re-election to Congress," the indictment charged. He reportedly urged the ambassador to call Korean President park Chung Hee "to get this [rice purchase] off dead center, otherwise, I could be defeated."
Passman himself later wrote to President Park to thank him for "this manually advantageous arrangement between our countries," the indictment alleged.
Within the next three months, it charged further, Passman received $98,000 more from Park.
Passman repeatedly made contact with U.S. and Korean officials to praise the arrangement involving Park as a rice broker between the two countries, according to the charges.
In a meeting with Korean officials in the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 12, 1974, further discussion were held concerning the continuation of the rice-export relationship between the United States and Korea, it was alleged. Seven other members of Congress, unnamed in the indictment, reportedly attended the meeting.
In 1975, Passman began putting more pressure on AID officials to make funds available to South Korea so it could purchase rice from the United States, the indictment alleged.
The appropriate AID official refused to do so, but Passman later wrote a letter to Tongsun Park praising him for his efforts involving a 400,000-pound Food for Peace rice deal for fiscal 1976 and saying that Passman "anticipated" congressional funding at an early date" for the sale, according to the indictment.
At the same time, Passman was urging the Korean government to make additional substantial purchases of rice of cash, the charges added.
In the bribery counts involving some of the specific alleged cash transaction it is charged that Passman "did corruptly, directly and indirectly, ask, demand, exact, solicit, seek, accept, receive and agree to receive the cash from Park.
The case was assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Barrington D. Parker. No date for arrangement has been set.