Park misled on Kaesong shutting, says panel

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Park misled on Kaesong shutting, says panel

The shutting of the Kaesong Industrial Complex in February 2016 was unilaterally decided on by ousted President Park Geun-hye, according to a panel of experts, and not by the National Security Council, as her government claimed.

The nine-member panel, mostly made up of professors, was commissioned by the Unification Ministry to evaluate the Park administration’s handling of North Korea affairs. On Thursday it accused Park of “transcending legitimate procedures” and “proper consultations” in making the Kaesong decision on her own. It fell short of clarifying whether she or anyone else in the administration had broken any laws, citing its inability to cross-check the findings with official Blue House reports.

The Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Act doesn’t prescribe any penalties for Park’s solo call to close the Kaesong project, the panel said, but it did violate an agreement with North Korea in 2013 that said operation of the industrial zone would not be affected by any external circumstances between the two Koreas.

The advisory group, which was launched on Sept. 20 for a 100-day investigation, said it referred mostly to Unification Ministry reports and testimony from 10 people who worked at Park’s Blue House, without giving any names.

On Feb. 10, 2016, the Unification Ministry said it was shutting down the Kaesong complex, the last-remaining example of inter-Korean cooperation started under the Sunshine Policy of former President Kim Dae-jung, in retaliation for a nuclear test and launch of a long-range rocket by the North earlier that year. At the time, the ministry said members of the National Security Council’s standing committee discussed the plan earlier that day and reached the conclusion that the industrial park should be closed.

But according to the panel, Park decided to pull the plug on Feb. 8, a day after the North’s missile test. Her senior secretary of foreign affairs and national security told then-Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo that day that Park had made the order verbally.

In another revelation, the panel accused the Park administration of falsely claiming that the cash North Korea earned from the industrial park, located in the western North Korean border town of Kaesong, was being used to advance Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile development programs.

While relaying the government’s shutdown plan, Hong told a press briefing that North Korea had earned $560 million in wages and that South Korea’s government and business sector invested a total of $852 million in factories, infrastructure and other facilities in Kaesong.

He highlighted that “it appears that the money wasn’t being used for the path of peace as the international society wished, but for the advancement of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.”

Hong didn’t give any sources for his claim. According to the panel, the accusation was slipped into Hong’s speech at the last minute by Park’s Blue House.

The panel said that a rough draft of Hong’s statement to the media, written by the Unification Ministry, didn’t mention anything about North Korea misusing its profits and the presidential office pressed the ministry to include those statements.

The ministry said in a statement Wednesday that it “modestly accepts” the panel’s conclusion, but refused to apologize or detail any plans to punish officials who conspired with Park, saying it needed time to verify whether the panel’s conclusions were true.

A senior official brushed aside any chances that the Kaesong Industrial Complex will re-open any time soon, saying Seoul had to “keep an eye out on the progress of the North Korea nuclear issue.”

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