&#91EDITORIALS&#93Explanation does not add up

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&#91EDITORIALS&#93Explanation does not add up

What President Kim Dae-jung said yesterday by way of explaining how cash was given to North Korea not only contradicted the position he has taken so far but also created more questions. The president and his party are badly mistaken if they thought the issue would be settled by this kind of disclosure. The explanation by Mr. Kim and his top aides made it clearer that we need an independent counsel to get all the facts out into the open.

The first question is about the president's role in the entire affair. On Jan. 30, he said it was within the realm of the government's administrative authority. Then he said yesterday that he was briefly told about Hyundai's activities in the period leading up to the June 2000 summit with the North Korean leader. "I accepted it without too much consideration," he said yesterday. This would indicate that he was not involved in the cash transfer when it was taking place and was told about it after it was done. Then what part of it did he mean was in the government's administrative authority?

The Blue House special adviser Lim Dong-won said yesterday that, as the director of the National Intelligence Service at the time, he was aware of the agency's involvement in the $200 million transfer to the North by Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. He said he saw the transfer as "an autonomously-conceived commercial transaction by a private business." Here we need to ask why, if the president was hardly involved in the affair, the government and the Millennium Democratic Party were so keen on keeping the facts from getting out when the report of the transfer first broke in September?

The MDP went well beyond merely denying the allegation; it waged an all-out campaign, calling it a conspiracy and merciless fabrication that must be stopped. With the president and his aides now clinging to national interest instead of previously claimed "administrative authority," it is not difficult to imagine that there is something far more serious that they are trying to conceal.

If what the president said was all true, then he was neglecting his role as head of state to seek responsibility in the government agency and officials who allowed an illegal transaction with North Korea by a private company to take place, creating such conflict in the country. The president is belittling the dignity of the Korean people when he says merely that it is time for the government to make the facts public and for him to take responsibility for everything.

Mr. Lim, the former intelligence chief, said he had simply directed the agency to consider helping Hyundai exchange the money and did not follow up on it until the affair broke. The Blue House now admits knowledge of the deal that gave Hyundai a monopoly on seven development projects in the North for $500 million. But it says it does not know about the $300 million of that sum that is still unaccounted for, and deferred to Hyundai for explanation.

It is outrageous irresponsibility for the Blue House to say that it did not know then and it does not know now about the key aspect of the affair. Let's forget about its denial in September; is there any sense in claiming ignorance now when it said it was explaining what happened? The Korean people are not convinced when President Kim and Mr. Lim say they ask for "the people's wise judgment."

Mr. Kim and Mr. Lim have shifted all responsibility to Hyundai. They stressed that the cash had nothing to do with the leaders' summit that month. But the chief executive of Hyundai Merchant Marine at the time, Kim Choong-shik, has been firm in insisting that the loan from the government's bank is not for the company to repay.

The government and the MDP have covered up enough. Of course Hyundai has some explaining to do. But the government has more of it, including its relationship with a private company that may have been for influence. And only an independent counsel is capable of getting to all the facts.
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