The Washington Post

Washington tech mogul withdraws Korea bid

Washington tech mogul Jeong H. Kim, whose past association with the CIA drew criticism from South Korean politicians, has withdrawn his candidacy to head South Korea’s new science ministry.

Kim was to lead the newly created Future Creation and Science Ministry — a cabinet-level post — under the administration of President Park Geun-hye, who took office last week.

South Korean news agencies said Kim’s withdrawal came amid a political impasse with the opposition Democratic United Party over the new president’s government reorganization plan.

“As I watched the confusion over the government reorganization bill, my dreams were also shattered,” Kim told a news conference at the National Assembly in Seoul, according to the Yonhap news agency.

Kim, 52, is a part owner of the Washington Wizards and Capitals, but it is his connection to the CIA that generated fears among some South Koreans that he might act as a spy for the U.S. government.

Jeong H. Kim, a Washington area entrepreneur and former president of Bell Labs, has withdrawn his candidacy to head South Korea’s new science ministry. (Peter Allan/PHOTOFOR)

To assuage critics, Kim had gone as far as to offer to forfeit his U.S. citizenship. A native of South Korea, he has owned a home there for more than a decade and has reportedly sought to regain his South Korean citizenship in recent weeks. He also resigned from the presidency of New Jersey-based Bell Labs last month.

The concerns arose over Kim’s service as a director of the External Advisory Board at the CIA from 2007 to 2011 while he was president of Bell Labs. He also served as a director at In-Q-Tel, an Arlington venture capital firm set up in 1999 with CIA funding.

Kim has said his relationship with the CIA was solely advisory. Phone calls to Kim’s Potomac home were not returned.

A spokesman for the South Korean Embassy, Consul Taeho Uhm, said the embassy “has never been involved in this nomination process, and with regard to his withdrawal, the Korean Embassy does not have any comments to add beyond what he himself said at the news conference.”

Kim is well known in South Korea, where his immigrant success story has been celebrated in documentaries, especially after he founded a technology firm, Yurie Systems, and sold it to Lucent for $1 billion in 1998.

Kim was born in Seoul and immigrated to the United States in his early teens. According to the University of Maryland’s Web site, he earned a doctorate in reliability engineering from the school after completing undergraduate degrees in electrical engineering and computer science. He also has a master’s degree in technical management at Johns Hopkins University.

His early career encompassed computer design, satellite systems design and data communications. He spent seven years as a nuclear submarine officer in the U.S. Navy.

The sale of Landover-based Yurie Systems to Lucent made him a player among Washington’s entrepreneurs, and he forged relationships with Raul Fernandez, Ted Leonsis and other tech businessmen in the area.

He worked for Lucent, then quit to join the faculty at U-Md., where he taught engineering. His name is on one of the buildings at the campus’s A. James Clark School of Engineering. Kim became president of Bell Labs in April 2005, serving in that post for nearly eight years.

Thomas Heath is a local business reporter and columnist, writing about entrepreneurs and various companies big and small in the Washington Metropolitan area. Previously, he wrote about the business of sports for The Post’s sports section for most of a decade.
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