A high-flying career under a dictator’s wing

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A high-flying career under a dictator’s wing

August 1, 1984
Jung Nae-hyuk, a former high-ranking official from the Park Chung Hee administration, donated 5.1 billion won ($5 million) to the national treasury on this day.
At the time, some people characterized the donation as a clever way to distract the public from an allegation that he had accumulated wealth by illicit means. Others said that even if those allegations were untrue, the money was tainted because Mr. Jung had accumulated it during his years as a minion for the dictatorial former president.
But most people were awed by the decision to give away what amounted to most of his fortune.
Mr. Jung, who is now 79 years old, calls himself one of the living witnesses to Korea’s modern history. He was a Korean War hero in the 1950s, a prominent young political leader during the 1960s and a respected entrepreneur during the 1970s, until the allegations of impropriety tarred him before his retirement.
In 1961, Park Chung Hee plucked him out of graduate school to appoint him Minister of Commerce and Industry. (There is no Commerce Ministry now; it was merged with the Foreign Ministry during Kim Dae-jung’s presidential administration).
Young Mr. Jung had gained President Park’s trust by collaborating with the coup d’etat that brought him to power in 1961.
“At the moment, I realized that a revolution was inevitable. I decided to take part in the coup,” Mr. Jung wrote in his memoir.
But the friendship between Mr. Jung and Mr. Park went back well before that. Both men went to Japanese military school during World War II.
In 1950, when Mr. Park was the information chief for the Korean Army, Mr. Jung was appointed to head an Army operation team. Each later went on to head an army division.
When Mr. Park became the army’s commander-in-chief, Mr. Jung became a managing director at the Defense Ministry.
At the time of Mr. Park’s coup, Mr. Jung was a graduate student at Korea National Defense University. When President Park appointed him Minister of Commerce and Industry, he was 35 years old.
In 1961, Korea was one of the poorest countries in Asia, with a per-capita gross national product of $82 and total annual exports of $41 million. Mr. Park was determined that Korea would rise up rapidly from hunger and poverty.
One thing he did upon taking power was revamp the administration. He appointed fellow alumni and military-trained personnel to most of the important government posts.
Mr. Jung was one of those people. Although he had little knowledge of commerce or industry, he took the offer. He wrote in his memoir that he came to his first day of work armed, in his military uniform.
“Everyone looked confused,” he wrote.
Perhaps it was his military-style commands that caused people in the ministry to work hard. Or possibly it was the fact that the Commerce Ministry was known to have the full backing of Park Chung Hee.
But as he wrote in his memoirs, people worked very hard, and Korea’s economy grew faster than anyone would have thought possible. Companies that had been making bicycles grew into giant automobile manufacturers.
“A small business that used to make toothpaste and radios is now what we call LG Group,” Mr. Jung wrote in his reminiscences of the 1960s. “And a silk factory in Suwon matured into SK Group.”
He met West German Finance Minister Ludwig Erhart and persuaded West Germany to loan Korea 150 million deutschmarks ($92 million). With the money, Korea built a cement factory and extensive mines.
After serving as the president of the Korean military academy and a lieutenant general in the Army, Mr. Jung was appointed president of Korea Electric Power Corporation.
But his career did not end here.
In 1970, he said, he was playing golf with executives from Kepco. A newspaper reporter came running up to him and told him, “You have just been named the next Defense Minister.”
Later he was elected a lawmaker, and even became chairman of the National Assembly. But after Mr. Park was assassinated in 1979, Mr. Jung’s fortunes seemed to fade.
He stepped down from his leadership after one of his fellow alumni asserted that he had accumulated wealth by dishonest means. Two months later, he announced in front of the press that he would donate most of his fortune to his country out of patrotism.


by Lee Min-a
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