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Hyundai cash confession

Seoul, Feb. 16 (Reuters): An executive of South Korea’s Hyundai group acknowledged today that his firm had secretly sent $500 million to North Korea, saying the payments secured business rights and also helped bring about a landmark North-South summit.

At a news conference, Hyundai Asan Corp. chairman Chung Mong-hun apologised “with my head bowed”, for controversy over the payments, which he said had secured for Hyundai the exclusive rights to seven business projects in North Korea.

But Chung added: “I also thought that the payments contributed to the summit.”

South Korean President Kim Dae-jung had apologised to the country on Friday over two-week-old revelations that Hyundai sent cash to Pyongyang in 2000, including $200 million just days before Kim’s historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

But Kim’s government has denied allegations that the cash and state loans sent to the North by Hyundai Merchant Marine were used to entice Kim Jong-il to hold the summit in June 2000.

The “cash-for-summit” scandal has complicated the transition from Kim Dae-jung to his elected successor Roh Moo-hyun this month and tainted South dealing with North Korea at a time when South-North ties are strained by an international crisis over the North’s suspected attempts to build nuclear weapons.

Chung, a son of the founder of the conglomerate, had just returned from North Korea, where Hyundai Asan operates a tourist project that has been the centrepiece of economic projects between capitalist South Korea and the communist North.

Chung declined to provide details on the projects he said were secured by the payments, defending the secrecy as key to maintaining Hyundai’s advantage in competition with Western and Japanese firms for business projects in North Korea.

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