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Rev. Moon, North Korea & the Bushes
Editor’s Note: As the nuclear crisis with North Korea worsens, a little-known part of the story is how one of America’s favorite right-wing financial benefactors, Rev. Sun Myung Moon, secretly funneled money to the communist leadership in Pyongyang while also supporting the Bush Family in the United States.
Though holding an American residency permit and boasting about the influence that his Washington Times gives him in the U.S. capital, Moon breezily ignored U.S. legal embargoes against financial dealings with North Korea’s dictatorship, as Consortiumnews.com reported on Oct. 11, 2000, less than a month before the election that restored the Bush Family to power:
The Rev. Sun Myung Moon's business empire, which includes the conservative Washington Times, paid millions of dollars to North Korea's communist leaders in the early 1990s when the hard-line government needed foreign currency to finance its weapons programs, according to U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency documents.
The payments included a $3 million “birthday present” to current communist leader Kim Jong Il and offshore payments amounting to “several tens of million dollars” to the previous communist dictator, Kim Il Sung, the partially declassified documents said.
Moon apparently was seeking a business foothold in North Korea. But the transactions also raise legal questions for Moon and could cast a shadow on George W. Bush’s presidential campaign, given the Bush family’s longstanding financial and political ties to Moon and his organization.
Besides making alleged payments to North Korea’s communist leaders, the 80-year-old founder of the South Korean-based Unification Church has funneled large sums of money, possibly millions of dollars as well, to former President George H.W. Bush.
One well-placed former leader of Moon’s Unification Church told me that the total earmarked for former President Bush was $10 million. The father of the Republican nominee has declined to say how much Moon’s organization actually paid him for speeches and other services in Asia, the United States and South America.
At one Moon-sponsored speech in Argentina in 1996, Bush declared, “I want to salute Reverend Moon,” whom Bush praised as “the man with the vision.”
Bush made these speeches at a time when Moon was expressing intensely anti-American views. In his own speeches, Moon termed the United States “Satan’s harvest” and claimed that American women descended from a “line of prostitutes.”
During this year’s presidential campaign, Moon’s Washington Times has attacked the Clinton-Gore administration for failing to take more aggressive steps to defend against North Korea’s missile program. The newspaper called the administration’s decisions an “abdication of responsibility for national security.”
A Helping Hand
Yet, in the 1990s when North Korea was scrambling for the resources to develop missiles and other advanced weaponry, Moon was among a small group of outside businessmen quietly investing in North Korea.
Moon’s activities attracted the attention of the Defense Intelligence Agency, which is responsible for monitoring potential military threats to the United States.
Though historically an ardent anticommunist, Moon negotiated a business deal in 1991 with Kim Il Sung, the longtime communist leader, the DIA documents said.
The deal called for construction of a hotel complex in Pyongyang as well as a new Holy Land at the site of Moon's birth in North Korea, one document said. The DIA said the deal sprang from a face-to-face meeting between Moon and Kim Il Sung in North Korea from Nov. 30 to Dec. 8, 1991.
“These talks took place secretly, without the knowledge of the South Korean government,” the DIA wrote on Feb. 2, 1994. “In the original deal with Kim [Il Sung], Moon paid several tens of million dollars as a down-payment into an overseas account,” the DIA said in a cable dated Aug. 14, 1994.
The DIA said Moon's organization also delivered money to Kim Il Sung's son and successor, Kim Jong Il.
“In 1993, the Unification Church sold a piece of property located in Pennsylvania,” the DIA reported on Sept. 9, 1994. “The profit on the sale, approximately $3 million was sent through a bank in China to the Hong Kong branch of the KS [South Korean] company ‘Samsung Group.’ The money was later presented to Kim Jung Il [Kim Jong Il] as a birthday present.”
After Kim Il Sung's death in 1994 and his succession by his son, Kim Jong Il, Moon dispatched his longtime aide, Bo Hi Pak, to ensure that the business deals were still on track with Kim Jong Il “and his coterie,” the DIA reported.
“If necessary, Moon authorized Pak to deposit a second payment for Kim Jong Il,” the DIA wrote.
The DIA declined to elaborate on the documents that it released to me under a Freedom of Information Act request. “As for the documents you have, you have to draw your own conclusions,” said DIA spokesman, U.S. Navy Capt. Michael Stainbrook.
Moon's Right-Hand Man
Contacted in Seoul, South Korea, Bo Hi Pak, a former publisher of The Washington Times, denied that payments were made to individual North Korean leaders and called “absolutely untrue” the DIA's description of the $3 million land sale benefiting Kim Jong Il.
But Bo Hi Pak acknowledged that Moon met with North Korean officials and negotiated business deals with them in the early 1990s. Pak said the North Korean business investments were structured through South Korean entities.
“Rev. Moon is not doing this in his own name,” said Pak.
Pak said he went to North Korea in 1994, after Kim Il Sung’s death, only to express “condolences” to Kim Jong Il on behalf of Moon and his wife. Pak denied that another purpose of the trip was to pass money to Kim Jong Il or to his associates.
Asked about the seeming contradiction between Moon's avowed anti-communism and his friendship with leaders of a communist state, Pak said, “This is time for reconciliation. We're not looking at ideological differences. We are trying to help them out” with food and other humanitarian needs.
Samsung officials said they could find no information in their files about the alleged $3 million payment.
North Korean officials clearly valued their relationship with Moon. In February of this year , on Moon's 80th birthday, Kim Jong Il sent Moon a gift of rare wild ginseng, an aromatic root used medicinally, Reuters reported.
Because of the long-term U.S. embargo against North Korea – eased only within the past several months – Moon’s alleged payments to the communist leaders raise potential legal issues for Moon, a South Korean citizen who is a U.S. permanent resident alien.
“Nobody in the United States was supposed to be providing funding to anybody in North Korea, period, under the Treasury (Department's) sanction regime,” said Jonathan Winer, former deputy assistant secretary of state handling international crime.
The U.S. embargo of North Korea dates back to the Korean War. With a few exceptions for humanitarian goods, the embargo barred trade and financial dealings between North Korea and “all U.S. citizens and permanent residents wherever they are located, … and all branches, subsidiaries and controlled affiliates of U.S. organizations throughout the world.”
Moon became a permanent resident of the United States in 1973, according to Justice Department records. Bo Hi Pak said Moon has kept his “green card” status. Though often in South Korea and South America, Moon maintains a residence near Tarrytown, north of New York City, and controls dozens of affiliated U.S. companies.
Direct payments to foreign leaders in connection with business deals also could prompt questions about possible violations of the U.S. Corrupt Practices Act, a prohibition against overseas bribery.
Moon's followers regard him as the second Messiah and grant him broad power over their lives, even letting him pick their spouses. Critics, including ex-Unification Church members, have accused Moon of brainwashing young recruits and living extravagantly while his followers have little.
Around the world, Moon's business relationships long have been cloaked in secrecy. His sources of money have been mysteries, too, although witnesses – including his former daughter-in-law – have come forward in recent years and alleged widespread money-laundering within the organization.
Moon “demonstrated contempt for U.S. law every time he accepted a paper bag full of untraceable, undeclared cash collected from true believers” who carried the money in from overseas, wrote his ex-daughter-in-law, Nansook Hong, in her 1998 book, In the Shadows of the Moons.
Since Moon stepped onto the international stage in the 1970s, he has used his fortune to build political alliances and to finance media, academic and political institutions.
In 1978, Moon was identified by the congressional “Koreagate” investigation as an operative of the South Korean CIA and part of an influence-buying scheme aimed at the U.S. government. Moon denied the charges.
Though Moon later was convicted on federal tax evasion charges, his political influence continued to grow when he founded The Washington Times in 1982. The unabashedly conservative newspaper won favor with presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush by backing their policies and hammering their opponents.
In 1988, when Bush was trailing early in the presidential race, the Times spread a baseless rumor that the Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis had undergone psychiatric treatment. The Moon-affiliated American Freedom Coalition also distributed millions of pro-Bush flyers.
Bush personally expressed his gratitude. When Wesley Pruden was appointed The Washington Times’ editor-in-chief in 1991, Bush invited Pruden to a private White House lunch “just to tell you how valuable the Times has become in Washington, where we read it every day.” [Washington Times, May 17, 1992].
While Bush was hosting Pruden in the White House, Pruden’s boss was opening his financial and business channels to North Korea. According to the DIA, Moon’s North Korean deal was ambitious and expensive.
“There was an agreement regarding economic cooperation for the reconstruction of KN's [North Korea's] economy which included establishment of a joint venture to develop tourism at Kimkangsan, KN [North Korea]; investment in the Tumangang River Development; and investment to construct the light industry base at Wonsan, KN. It is believed that during their meeting Mun [Moon] donated 450 billion yen to KN,” one DIA report said.
In late 1991, the Japanese yen traded at about 130 yen to the U.S. dollar, meaning Moon's investment would have been about $3.5 billion, if the DIA information is correct.
Moon's aide Pak denied that Moon’s investments ever approached that size. Though Pak did not give an overall figure, he said the initial phase of an automobile factory was in the range of $3 million to $6 million.
The DIA depicted Moon's business plans in North Korea as much grander. The DIA valued the agreement for hotels in Pyongyang and the resort in Kumgang-san, alone, at $500 million. The plans also called for creation of a kind of Vatican City covering Moon's birthplace.
“In consideration of Mun's [Moon's] economic cooperation, Kim [Il Sung] granted Mun a 99-year lease on a 9 square kilometer parcel of land located in Chongchu, Pyonganpukto, KN. Chongchu is Mun's birthplace and the property will be used as a center for the Unification Church. It is being referred to as the Holy Land by Unification Church believers and Mun [h]as been granted extraterritoriality during the life of the lease.”
North Korea granted Moon some smaller favors, too. Four months after Moon's meeting with Kim Il Sung, editors from The Washington Times were allowed to interview the reclusive North Korean communist in what the Times called “the first interview he has granted to an American newspaper in many years.”
Later in 1992, the Times was again rallying to President George H.W. Bush’s defense. The newspaper stepped up attacks against Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh as his investigation homed in on Bush and his inner circle. Walsh considered the Times’ relentless criticism a distraction to the criminal investigation, according to his book, Firewall.
That fall, in the 1992 campaign, the Times turned its editorial guns on Bush’s new rival, Bill Clinton. Some of the anti-Clinton articles raised questions about Clinton’s patriotism, even suggesting that the Rhodes scholar might have been recruited as a KGB agent during a collegiate trip to Moscow.
A Bush Salute
Bush’s loss of the White House did not end his relationship with Moon’s organization. Out of office, Bush agreed to give paid speeches to Moon-supported groups in the United States, Asia and South America. In some cases, Barbara Bush joined in the events.
During this period, Moon grew increasingly hateful about the United States and many of its ideals.
In a speech to his followers on Aug. 4, 1996, Moon vowed to liquidate American individuality, declaring that his movement would “swallow entire America.” Moon said Americans who insisted on “their privacy and extreme individualism … will be digested.”
Nevertheless, former President Bush continued to work for Moon’s organization. In November 1996, the former U.S. president spoke at a dinner in Buenos Aires, Argentina, launching Moon’s South American newspaper, Tiempos del Mundo.
“I want to salute Reverend Moon,” Bush declared, according to a transcript of the speech published in The Unification News, an internal church newsletter.
“A lot of my friends in South America don’t know about The Washington Times, but it is an independent voice,” Bush said. “The editors of The Washington Times tell me that never once has the man with the vision interfered with the running of the paper, a paper that in my view brings sanity to Washington, D.C.”
Contrary to Bush’s claim, a number of senior editors and correspondents have resigned in protest of editorial interference from Moon’s operatives. Bush has refused to say how much he was paid for the speech in Buenos Aires or others in Asia and the United States.
Going After Gore
During the 2000 election cycle, Moon’s newspaper has taken up the cause of Bush’s son and mounted harsh attacks against his rival, Vice President Al Gore.
In 1999, the Times played a prominent role in promoting a bogus quote attributed to Gore about his work on the toxic waste issue. In a speech in Concord, New Hampshire, Gore had referred to a toxic waste case in Toone, Tennessee, and said, “that was the one that started it all.”
The New York Times and The Washington Post garbled the quote, claiming that Gore had said, “I was the one that started it all.”
The Washington Times took over from there, accusing Gore of being clinically “delusional.” The Times called the vice president “a politician who not only manufactures gross, obvious lies about himself and his achievements but appears to actually believe these confabulations.” [Washington Times, Dec. 7, 1999]
Even after other papers corrected the false quote, The Washington Times continued to use it. The notion of Gore as an exaggerator, often based on this and other mis-reported incidents, became a powerful Republican “theme” as Gov. Bush surged ahead of Gore in the presidential preference polls.
Republicans also have made the North Korean threat an issue against the Clinton-Gore administration. Last year, a report by a House Republican task force warned that during the 1990s, North Korea and its missile program emerged as a nuclear threat to Japan and possibly the Pacific Northwest of the United States.
“This threat has advanced considerably over the past five years, particularly with the enhancement of North Korea's missile capabilities,” the Republican task force said. “Unlike five years ago, North Korea can now strike the United States with a missile that could deliver high explosive, chemical, biological, or possibly nuclear weapons.”
Moon’s newspaper has joined in excoriating the Clinton-Gore administration for postponing a U.S. missile defense system to counter missiles from North Korea and other “rogue states.” Gov. George W. Bush favors such a system.
“To its list of missed opportunities, the Clinton-Gore administration can now add the abdication of responsibility for national security,” a Times editorial said.
“By deciding not to begin construction of the Alaskan radar, Mr. Clinton has indisputably delayed eventual deployment beyond 2005, when North Korea is estimated to be capable of launching an intercontinental missile against the United States.” [Washington Times, Sept. 5, 2000]
The Washington Times did not note that its founder – who continues to subsidize the newspaper with tens of millions of dollars a year – had defied a U.S. trade embargo aimed at containing the military ambitions of North Korea.
By supplying money at a time when North Korea was desperate for hard currency, Moon helped deliver the means for the communist state to advance exactly the strategic threat that Moon’s newspaper now says will require billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to thwart.
That money bought Moon influence inside North Korea. It is less clear how much influence Moon and his associates will have inside a George W. Bush White House, given Moon’s longstanding -- though little known -- support for the Bush family.
To see two of the DIA documents, click here.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.
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