Supporter Says Roh Is 'Incapable of Managing Funds'
SEOUL — NOT too many South Koreans were surprised to hear that former President Roh Tae Woo had raised a secret political fund. Mr. Roh's predecessor had admitted to the practice and Roh himself had faced earlier accusations of corruption.
What shocked people, however, was the size of the fund, which may have reached $1 billion, and that Roh had taken nearly a quarter of the amount for himself.
"In the Korean context, if you collect a certain amount for political use, that's fine," says an economist here who preferred anonymity. "But not for personal use."
Like the economist, many Koreans are convinced of Roh's greed, but a business executive who supports the disgraced former president says Roh is not so venal.
"He really didn't do it for himself," says the executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "He is incapable of managing funds.... He doesn't know the difference between $1 million and $100 million."
But one incident suggests that some members of Roh's family, at least, do know how to count.
In March 1990, during Roh's presidency, US authorities investigated his daughter Chey Soh Yeong and her husband, Chey Tae Won, for making questionable currency transactions.
The couple had opened a series of accounts in California banks and deposited almost $200,000 during the first week of the previous February.
WHAT concerned US Treasury officials was that the initial deposits were all less than $10,000 - an apparent attempt to avoid the federal requirement to report transactions exceeding that amount.
Three years later, after negotiating an agreement with the US attorney for northern California, the couple pleaded guilty to making a false statement to the US government and forfeited the money they had deposited.
Opposition politicians are once again scrutinizing the incident because of suspicions that Roh himself may be harboring money in secret Swiss bank accounts.
Shortly before the couple made the deposits, according to Cho Se-Hyung, an opposition member of the National Assembly, Roh had visited Switzerland and Seattle, where he met his daughter. "There is widespread speculation," Mr. Cho says, "that Roh picked up the money in Switzerland and carried it on the presidential airplane to Seattle."
During a 1993 sentencing hearing, Michael Zigler, the assistant US attorney handling the case, said that currency wrappers from a Swiss bank account had been found during the investigation.
"The source of the currency is people who are connected in the Korean political arena," Mr. Zigler said, who provided "no explanation for how they amassed $200,000 in currency."