The bribery trial of former representative Otto E. Passman (D-La.) opened here today after a difficult week-long jury selection.
The 78-year-old Passman, longtime chairman of a key House Appropriations subcommittee, was indicted a year ago on charges of receiving more than $200,000 from Tongsun Park, the millionarie South Korean businessman, in return for pressuring the U.S. and Korean governments into rice sales. A second indictment charged Passman with failure to pay taxes on the alleged payoff from Park.
The government afgued in its opening statement that Passman and Park "acted in subtle ways to reach mutual goals." Morris Silverstein, in presenting the government's case, instructed the jury of Passman's past constituents that the trial "has nothing to do with how well Congressman Passman served his constituency."
Silverstein told the jury that Passman was once "one of the most powerful congressmen," and that he had "abused his office" by aiding Park, who made over $8.5 million in rice commissions.
The opening statement of the defense attacked Park's relationship with the Korean government.
Camille F. Gravel Jr., Passman's attorney, told the jury that Park "enjoyed a close, mysterious and sometimes sinister relationship" with the Korean government. Gravel said Park gave over a half-million dollars to Korean officials in 1974 and 1975.The payments were made in blank checks to the depty of the Korean government security force. That official, Gravel stated, filled in the name of a Korean Central Intelligence Agency recipient in Washington.
Gravel's defense strategy will be to discredit Park's credibility. Part of that effort will focus on Park's payments to Korean officials. The immunity agreements between the Korean and U.S. governments preclude the prosecution from asking questions of Park's connections.
Gravel agrued that the document seized from Park over the course of the Korean investigation will prove that Park made out fictitious figures and exaggerated amounts paid U.S. politicians. Park's report fulfilled his "obligation to his superiors, partneers and associates in Korea in order to justify his own lavish expenditures," Gravel said.
Gravel said Passman did not "accept one thin dime" from Tongsun Park.
Earlier today the U.D. District Court judge for the western district of Louisians, Earl Verob, ruled that Park's secret testimony taken in Seoul was part of the public record.
The 17-volume Seoul testimony taken in January 1978 was presented to a Washington grand jury last spring in lieu of Park's appearance. The grand jury later issued the two indictments against Passman.
Although Park testified publicly before several congressional committees, the Seoul testimony adds significant detail to previous statements. Park is the prosecution's chief witness in the Passman trial.
Park testified in Seoul that prior to 1972, "it was clear to me that Mr. Passman didn't like me at all. So certain effort had to be made to get to know him..."
Park described the "certain effort" as meetings in January 1972 in Hong Kong between himself and Passman. "I'll have to assume that we were brought together through the good auspices of [Louisiana] Gov. [Edwin] Edwards." Park said he and Passman "more or less" came to an "arrangement or agreement" to work together from then on.
"Mr. Edwards," ten Louisiana governor-elect, "came to me," Park testified, and said "his political life" depended on his ability to help rice farmers export their products.
Park recalled Edwards saying, "I'm leaving Congress. I can't recommend to you a better person than my colleague, Otto Passman." Edwards and other "friends" told Park that Passman "always takes a very aggressive approach -- that he would be very helpful... in breaking down whatever situation is generated by bureaucratic nitpicking.. because of his position as chairman of the appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations."
Park recalled the arrangement during the Hong Kong meeting. "I think he wanted to augment his financial needs by simply asking me to contribute toward his campaign... I recall his specifically mentioning or throwing around figures of $150,000 to $200,000 being his campaign requirement."
Gravel, serving jointly as Passman's attorney and Edwards' executive counsel introduced the Seoul testimony in Novermber 1978 along with other documents. He attempted to demonstrate "undue and unjust preindictment delay" and "prosecutorial misconduct and overreach" against his client.