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01.12.2022 Author: Konstantin Asmolov

Moon Jae-in Under Attack: the North Korean Issue

In a previous article, the author described how the authorities were closing in on Moon Jae-in. However, the most serious anti-Moon allegations are not those related to corruption, but those regarding the “North Korean issue,” as they put into question Moon’s main achievement – the improvement of inter-Korean relations. It is important for the Conservatives to show that Moon’s inter-Korean course was in fact a blood-paid concession, and possibly a source of corrupt activity.

The first round of allegations concerns the death of the fisheries official Lee Dae-jung and the “case of fishermen-murderers,” where Moon refused to cooperate with the investigation. The Conservative government just couldn’t let this pass. First, wasn’t it Moon himself who in 2016 demanded that Park Geun-hye cooperate with investigators because the law applies to everyone without discrimination? Second, the interrogation of a former president is not unprecedented. During Kim Yong Sam’s rule, the Bureau sent letters of inquiry to former presidents Chung Doo-hwan and Ro Tae-woo in connection with a suspicious dam construction near the demilitarized zone and a defense corruption scandal.

Then, since September 2022, the testimony of a certain high-ranking official of the National Intelligence Service has been circulating in conservative circles, according to which the Moon administration was preparing for a potential visit of the North Korean leader and spent a fortune to this end. It is alleged that gifts were bought for this occasion and real estate where the northern guests were supposed to stay, as well as furniture for the property and even a luxury yacht that was planned to be given to Kim. In particular:

  • In June 2019, the intelligence service purchased a 1,600 million won ($1.37 million) villa in Paju (the area adjacent to the border) where the North Koreans from the working group could stay during the proposed visit and during preparations for it. To add insult to injury, A) the villa was allegedly owned by a close associate of then service director Seo Hoon; B) the building is listed in the property register as a two-story building, but in fact, it is a three-story one.  This indicated that the building had been renovated illegally. In addition, the market price of such a villa is from 600 to 800 million won (513,000 to 684,000 dollars), so they overpaid twofold.
  • The table in the villa cost 60 million won ($51,000, i.e. an office worker’s annual salary). In comparison, expensive conference room tables typically cost around 10 million won ($8,500).
  • 22 billion won (18.8 million dollars) was allocated for the construction of a banquet hall and living quarters on Jeju Island (it was planned that Kim would be taken there).
  • Furthermore, the intelligence agency purchased a used yacht worth between 600 to 700 million won (513,000 to 598,000 dollars) anchored in Incheon. Officially, it was for “training employees,” whereas in fact, it was for Kim to take a sea tour. Yacht maintenance costs range from 40 to 50 million Swiss francs per year.
  • It is not known where this money went, but it is “assumed” that in any case it is a misappropriation, on which someone clearly made a good profit.

And in October 2022, Conservative MP Bae Hyun-jin made certain documents public, according to which in 2021 Seoul proposed to invest billions of dollars in infrastructure development for North Korea by co-hosting the 2032 Olympic Games with Pyongyang. According to the proposal that Moon Jae-in’s administration submitted to the International Olympic Committee on April 1, 2021, upgrading infrastructure to the level needed to host a sporting event in Pyongyang cost more than 22.6 trillion won ($15.7 billion); for Seoul, this would cost an additional 5.9 trillion won. Among the proposed projects were the construction of a high-speed rail line between the two cities, an Olympic Village in Pyongyang, along with power transmission and communication lines, including 5G network infrastructure. In addition to spending on infrastructure, it was planned to attract investment for North Korea, purporting that if sanctions on North Korea were eased, support from international organizations such as the IOC would significantly reduce its financial burden.

However, Brisbane was ultimately chosen as the host city for the 2032 Games, and it is MP Bae’s opinion that the Moon administration may have tried to use the Olympics as a means to circumvent sanctions to financially support the regime.

Another nasty accusation concerns the smuggling of currency into North Korea. As was noted earlier, the Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Korea is investigating allegations that in 2018-2019 Ssang bang wool secretly sent millions of US dollars to China from where the money was forwarded to North Korea.

On November 17, 2022, the head of People Power, Jung Jin-suk, stated that “the case is escalating into a bribery scandal involving North Korea and the Moon Jae-in administration.” Allegedly, Ssang bang wool sent about $6.4 million to Pyongyang and the money was delivered to Kim Yong Chol, head of the United Front Department in charge of inter-Korean relations.  The case included the KH Group, which donated 10 Rolex watches to North Korean officials.

According to Chong, this was done with the permission of the intelligence agencies and the Blue House in order to broker a deal to hold the Hanoi summit in 2019 between the United States and North Korea.  “If money illegally sent to North Korea was used to develop nuclear weapons by its leader Kim Jong-un, Moon Jae-in’s government should be held accountable.”

 Nevertheless, the investigation has not yet pressed direct charges against the ex-president, because Conservative prosecutors and the media are well aware that these charges will be analyzed scrupulously and the Democrats will deem any mistakes/inconsistencies as charges concocted as part of political revenge. In this, as you can see, they differ from the Democrats, whose accusations against Park Geun-hye and others were usually built along the lines of “he must have known, which means he must have been the main beneficiary” or “how can everything that people are saying be untrue?”.

One could argue that this “boomerang” has not yet come back to Moon, but the situation is developing, and therefore we will have to wait and see what the future has in store for Moon Jae-in.

Konstantin Asmolov, PhD in History, leading research fellow at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute of China and Modern Asia, the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.


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