Glimpes of yet another South Korean Horatio Alger story emerge from recently released congressional testimony by the former head of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency.
Kim Hyung Wook, who was a key witness in investigations of South Korean influence buying on Capitol Hill, seems to have managed quite comfortably in the United States for the past five years with no visible signs of financial support.
The 53-year-old Kim modestly denied that he had access to Swiss bank accounts, as did Tongsun Park, the Washington businessman who handled some $9 million in commissions funneled from the Korean government as part of the lobbying effort. Park testiifed he viewed himself as an American success story.
But Kim was reluctant to explain the $50,000 in $100 bills U.S. Customs agents found hidden in his socks after he returned from a trip to Europe last January.
"It was very embarrassing," Kim told the House international organizations subcommittee in July testimony that was released this week.
He'd gotten his flight tickets from Caesar's Palace, the Las Vegas gambling casino, Kim said, because he was such a good customer. His bank records showed he made more than $1.4 million in payments to casinos over the last few years.
Kim testified that he was a "very close friend" of a Caesar's Palace manager. "I call him 'Godfather,'" the former Korean intelligence chief said.
Kim and his attorney, Alan D. Singer, hotly disputed a Citibank of New York estimate that the witness was worth as much as $20 million and had perhaps $6 million stashed overseas in foreign accounts.
A Citibank attorney later told the subcommittee that the bank document was solely for internal use and "was only a guess based upon rumor and speculation and not upon any factual information."
Singer said in a telephone interview that "that kind of incompetence" could get a bank sued. But he was more critical of the subcommittee investigators, who went to extraordinary lengths to unearth the truth about the fortune of their prize witness.
Kim acknowledged bringing some $3.5 million with him to the United States after falling into disfavor with the Seoul regime of South Korean President Park Chung Hee. But he declined to answer subcommittee questions about the present size of his bank accounts. "It's none of their damn business," Singer said.
The Korean government repeatedly denounced Kim as a traitor after he testified publicly about the influencebuying scheme.
In his closed session with the House subcommittee, Kim claimed that he built his fortune in Korea on land speculation and time deposits that grew rapidly because the interest rates reached 36 percent a year at times.
Rep. William F. Goodling (R-Pa.) at one point marveled at Kim's financial prowess: "As a public servant, general, you seem to have accumulated considerable wealth, and myself as a public servant, I have ended up with about $23,000 worth of debt. I was just wondering whether you sometime might take the time to give me your formula."