&#91EDITORIALS&#93Stay put, Mr. Chung

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[EDITORIALS]Stay put, Mr. Chung

In an absurd move, Chung Mong-hun, chairman of Hyundai Asan Co. and a key figure in the latest allegations of the South Korean government's secret funding of $200 million to North Korea, plans to visit the North for a field examination of a new overland tourism route to Mount Geumgang. At a time when the entire country is rattled by the suspicion-riddled scandal and when Mr. Chung himself is prohibited by state prosecutors from leaving the country, we can hardly understand how he can dare visit the North by asking the government to lift the ban.

Since late September, when the secret-fund allegations first surfaced, the Hyundai Asan chairman has expressed his position on the issue three times. He has denied the allegations, saying, "I have no idea. [The secret payoff to the North] is impossible."

Moreover, he stayed in the United States or in North Korea while the suspicions snowballed. In addition, Mr. Chung remains silent even after government auditors accused Hyundai Merchant Marine Co., which he controls, of sending $200 million to the North. As the chief of the Hyundai Group's North Korea business projects, and having the most accurate and detailed knowledge about the under-the-table dealings with the communist country, he should tell the truth.

We believe that such a scandal should not bring the ongoing inter-Korean reconciliation projects back to square one. But there is no reason why the owner of Hyundai Asan has to join a tour-course inspection trip. And we do not see why consultations with the North about the land route cannot proceed without him.

The government readily allowed Mr. Chung to make the visit, right after Pyeongyang requested Seoul to do so. That is why some critics suspect that the government gave the permission in a bid to cook up a story among Seoul, Pyeongyang and Hyundai.

The government must cancel permission immediately. Pyeongyang must be aware that backing Seoul and Mr. Chung will only make things worse.

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