W. Bush’s choice of Donald Rumsfeld to be U.S. defense secretary could
put an unintended spotlight on the role of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon – a
Bush family benefactor – in funneling millions of dollars to communist
North Korea in the 1990s as it was developing a missile and nuclear
In 1998, Rumsfeld headed a
special commission, appointed by the Republican-controlled Congress,
that warned that North Korea had made substantial progress during the
decade in building missiles that could pose a potential nuclear threat
to Japan and parts of the United States.
"The extraordinary level of
resources North Korea and Iran are now devoting to developing their own
ballistic missile capabilities poses a substantial and immediate danger
to the U.S., its vital interests and its allies," said the report
by Rumsfeld's Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the
"North Korea maintains an active WMD [weapons of mass destruction]
program, including a nuclear weapon program. It is known that North
Korea diverted material in the late 1980s for at least one or possibly
two weapons," the report said.
Rumsfeld’s alarming assessment
of North Korea’s war-making capabilities now is being cited by
Republicans as a justification for investing billions of taxpayer
dollars in an anti-missile defense system favored by Bush and Rumsfeld.
Yet, during the early-to-mid
1990s, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency was monitoring a series of
clandestine payments from Sun Myung Moon's organization to the North
Korean communist leaders who were overseeing the country's military
According to DIA documents
obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, Moon’s payments to
North Korean leaders included a $3 million “birthday present” to
current communist leader Kim Jong Il and offshore payments amounting to
“several tens of million dollars” to the previous communist
dictator, Kim Il Sung.
The alleged payments – and broader
Moon-North Korean business deals reported by the DIA – came at a time
of a strict U.S. government ban on financial transactions between North
Korea and any U.S. person or entity, to keep hard currency out of North
Legal experts say that ban would
have applied to Moon given his status as a permanent U.S. resident, even
though he maintains South Korean citizenship.
While negotiating those business
deals with North Korea in the 1990s, Moon’s organization also hired
former President George H.W. Bush and former First Lady Barbara Bush to
give speeches at Moon-sponsored events.
During one Moon-sponsored speech
in Argentina in November 1996, former President Bush declared, “I want
to salute Reverend Moon,” whom Bush praised as “the man with the
The father of the incoming U.S.
president has refused to divulge how much Moon’s organization paid for
these speeches which were delivered in the United States, Asia and South
Some press estimates have put
the fees in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, though one former
leader of Moon’s Unification Church told me that the organization had
earmarked $10 million for the former president.
Ex-President Bush’s pro-Moon
speeches came at a time, too, when Moon – now 80 – was expressing
intensely anti-American views. In the mid-1990s, Moon denounced the
United States as “Satan’s harvest” and condemned American women as
having descended from a “line of prostitutes.”
In a speech to his followers on
Aug. 4, 1996, Moon vowed to liquidate American individuality, declaring
that his movement would “swallow entire America.” Moon said
Americans who insisted on “their privacy and extreme individualism …
will be digested.”
Beyond these anti-Americanism
diatribes, other questions have arisen about how Moon finances his
religious-business-political empire. Evidence has existed back to the
1970s indicating that Moon’s organization has engaged in
money-laundering operations and has associated with right-wing
organized-crime figures in Asia and Latin America.
One of Moon's key early backers
was Ryoichi Sasakawa, a leader of Japan's Yakuza organized crime family,
according to the authoritative book, Yakuza, by David E. Kaplan
& Alec Dubro.
In 1998, Moon’s
ex-daughter-in-law, Nansook Hong, added first-hand testimony about one
of Moon's money-laundering methods when she described how cash was
smuggled illegally through U.S. Customs. Moon “demonstrated contempt
for U.S. law every time he accepted a paper bag full of untraceable,
undeclared cash” carried into the United States from overseas, she
wrote in her book, In the Shadows of the Moons.
To many Americans, Moon is
perhaps best known as a 1970s cult leader who allegedly brainwashed
young recruits into joining his Unification Church and then paired up
his followers in mass marriages where Moon would preside wearing lavish
costumes and crowns.
But Moon also understood the
importance of political clout. In 1978, a congressional investigation
identified Moon as a part of a covert influence-buying scheme aimed at
American institutions and run by the South Korean Central Intelligence
Agency, a charge that Moon denied.
In 1982, Moon was convicted of
tax fraud and served an 18-month sentence in federal prison.
Nevertheless, his political influence grew when he launched The
Washington Times, also in 1982.
In the years that followed, Moon
developed a reputation for financing
all-expense-paid international conferences for conservative politicians,
prominent journalists and influential academics.
Moon’s conservative newspaper
grew in importance in Washington through the 1980s and early 1990s, as
it staunchly supported Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and George
In 1991, President Bush
expressed his gratitude to Moon’s newspaper by inviting its editor,
Wesley Pruden, to a private White House lunch “just to tell you how
valuable the Times has become in Washington, where we read it
every day.” [Washington Times, May 17, 1992]
At about the same time as that
lunch, Moon was beginning another initiative – establishing a business
foothold in North Korea. The DIA, the Pentagon agency responsible for
monitoring possible military threats to the United States, started
keeping tabs on these developments.
Though historically an ardent
anticommunist, Moon negotiated a sweeping business deal with Kim Il
Sung, the longtime communist leader, the DIA documents said. The two men
met face-to-face in North Korea from Nov. 30 to Dec. 8, 1991.
“These talks took place
secretly, without the knowledge of the South Korean government,” the
DIA wrote on Feb. 2, 1994. “In the original deal with Kim [Il Sung],
Moon paid several tens of million dollars as a down-payment into an
overseas account,” the DIA said in another cable dated Aug. 14, 1994.
The DIA said Moon's
organization also delivered money to Kim Il Sung's son and successor,
Kim Jong Il.
“In 1993, the
Unification Church sold a piece of property located in Pennsylvania,”
the DIA reported on Sept. 9, 1994. “The profit on the sale,
approximately $3 million was sent through a bank in China to the Hong
Kong branch of the KS [South Korean] company ‘Samsung Group.’ The
money was later presented to Kim Jung Il [Kim Jong Il] as a birthday
After Kim Il Sung's
death in 1994 and his succession by his son, Kim Jong Il, Moon
dispatched his longtime aide, Bo Hi Pak, to ensure that the business
deals were still on track with Kim Jong Il “and his coterie,” the
Moon authorized Pak to deposit a second payment for Kim Jong Il,” the
As described by the DIA, Moon's
deal with North Korea called for construction of a hotel complex in
Pyongyang as well as a new Holy Land at the site of Moon’s birth in
“There was an agreement regarding
economic cooperation for the reconstruction of KN's [North Korea's]
economy which included establishment of a joint venture to develop
tourism at Kimkangsan, KN [North Korea]; investment in the Tumangang
River Development; and investment to construct the light industry base
at Wonsan, KN. It is believed that during their meeting Mun [Moon]
donated 450 billion yen to KN,” one DIA report said.
In late 1991, the Japanese yen traded at
about 130 yen to the U.S. dollar, meaning Moon's investment would have
been about $3.5 billion, if the DIA information is correct.
in Seoul, South Korea, Bo
Hi Pak, a former publisher of The
Washington Times, acknowledged that Moon met with North Korean
officials and negotiated business deals with them in the early 1990s.
But Bo Hi Pak denied
that payments were made to individual North Korean leaders and called
“absolutely untrue” the DIA's description of the $3 million land
sale benefiting Kim Jong Il. Bo Hi
Pak also said the North Korean business investments were structured
through South Korean entities.
“Rev. Moon is
not doing this in his own name,” said Pak.
Pak said he did
go to North Korea in 1994, after Kim Il Sung’s death, but only to
express “condolences” to Kim Jong Il on behalf of Moon and his wife.
Pak denied that another purpose of the trip was to pass money to Kim
Jong Il or to his associates.
In the phone interview, Bo Hi Pak also
denied that Moon’s investments ever approached $3.5 billion. Pak did
not give a total figure for the investments, but said the initial phase
of an automobile factory was in the range of $3 million to $6 million.
The DIA depicted Moon's business plans in
North Korea as much grander, however. The DIA valued the agreement for
hotels in Pyongyang and the resort in Kumgang-san, alone, at $500
million. The plans also called for creation of a kind of Vatican City
covering Moon's birthplace.
“In consideration of Mun's [Moon's]
economic cooperation, Kim [Il Sung] granted Mun a 99-year lease on a 9
square kilometer parcel of land located in Chongchu, Pyonganpukto, KN.
Chongchu is Mun's birthplace and the property will be used as a center
for the Unification Church. It is being referred to as the Holy Land by
Unification Church believers and Mun [h]as been granted
extraterritoriality during the life of the lease.”
officials clearly valued their relationship with Moon, granting him
small but symbolic favors. Four months after Moon's 1991 meeting with
Kim Il Sung, the communist dictator granted a rare interview to editors
from Moon's Washington Times.
2000, on Moon's 80th birthday, Kim Jong Il sent Moon a gift of rare wild
ginseng, an aromatic root used medicinally, Reuters
Because of the
long-term U.S. embargo against North Korea – eased only last year –
Moon’s alleged payments to the communist leaders raise potential legal
issues for Moon, a South Korean citizen who is a U.S. permanent resident
in the United States was supposed to be providing funding to anybody in
North Korea, period, under the Treasury (Department's) sanction
regime,” said Jonathan
Winer, former deputy assistant secretary of state handling
The U.S. embargo
of North Korea dates back to the Korean War. With a few exceptions for
humanitarian goods, the embargo barred trade and financial dealings
between North Korea and “all U.S. citizens and permanent residents
wherever they are located, … and all branches, subsidiaries and
controlled affiliates of U.S. organizations throughout the world.”
Moon became a
permanent resident of the United States in 1973, according to Justice
Department records. Bo Hi Pak said Moon has kept his “green card”
status. Moon maintains a residence
near Tarrytown, north of New York City, and controls dozens of
affiliated U.S. companies.
to foreign leaders in connection with business deals also could prompt
questions about possible violations of the U.S. Corrupt Practices Act, a
prohibition against overseas bribery.
Today, however, the potential
political fallout might be a greater concern than any legal action,
especially once George W. Bush assumes the presidency.
For the past two years,
Republicans have used Rumsfeld's report to club President Clinton and
Vice President Gore for alleged softness toward a recalcitrant communist
In 1999, a House Republican task
force followed up the work of Rumsfeld's commission and declared that
North Korea and its missile program had emerged as a nuclear threat to
Japan and possibly the Pacific Northwest of the United States.
"This threat has advanced
considerably over the past five years, particularly with the enhancement
of North Korea's missile capabilities," said the Republican task
force. "Unlike five years ago, North Korea can now strike the
United States with a missile that could deliver high explosive,
chemical, biological, or possibly nuclear weapons."
Ironically, Moon's newspaper
joined in laying the blame for North Korea's progress at the feet of the
"To its list of missed
opportunities, the Clinton-Gore administration can now add the
abdication of responsibility for national security," a Washington
Times editorial stated on Sept. 5, 2000.
Not surprisingly the Times
did not mention that its founder and financial backer, Sun Myung Moon,
had lent a hand to North Korea by agreeing to multi-million-dollar
business deals and allegedly putting millions of dollars in the personal
accounts of the leaders masterminding the strategic weapons development.
Equally unsurprising, former
President George H.W. Bush and his about-to-be-president son have never
explained the family's financial involvement with Rev. Moon, a messianic
leader who has vowed to build a movement powerful enough to eliminate
all individuality and freedom in the United States.
Those questions also aren't
likely to come up at the confirmation hearings for Donald Rumsfeld, who
believes that the United States must now pursue an expensive missile
shield to counter the threat posed by North Korea.
Robert Parry is a veteran
investigative reporter, who broke many of the Iran-contra stories in the
1980s for The Associated Press and Newsweek.