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South Korean President Apologizes for Secret Money Transfer to North Korea

South Korean President Kim Dae-jung has apologized to the nation for a financial scandal involving millions of dollars in secret money transfers to North Korea. The money was transferred just before a North South summit that became a major factor in Mr. Kim winning the Nobel Peace Prize. The president denies the money was used to bribe North Korea.

South Korean leader Kim Dae-jung on Friday appeared on television to apologize for the growing scandal that political opponents say amounted to bribing North Korea to hold a landmark summit in June 2000.

Mr. Kim told his country that he was aware that the Hyundai business group, one of the nation's top conglomerates, had transferred nearly 200-million dollars to Pyongyang just before the meetings.

But he denied that his administration made the payments or used them to entice reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to agree to the talks. President Kim said he will take all responsibility for this situation and asks for the nation's understanding that the transfer was done in the interest of peace and national interest.

The president said the money was paid by Hyundai in exchange for the right to pursue development projects in the North, including railways, tourism and an industrial park. Investigators have found that Hyundai borrowed the money from a state-run bank.

The opposition Grand National Party remained unconvinced that the incident did not amount to a bribe and called for an independent prosecutor to be appointed to investigate.

Mr. Kim won the Nobel Peace Prize in the year 2000 in large part because of the summit, which produced pledges by the two Korean leaders to work toward reunification.

The 78-year-old president is less than two weeks away from leaving office after a five-year term. He will be replaced by his protégé, Roh Moo-hyun, who supports Mr. Kim's so-called sunshine policy of engaging North Korea.

The two Koreas are moving forward with a series of joint projects unveiled at the landmark summit, including family reunions and the construction of inter-Korean road and rail links. On Friday, the two nations wrapped up economic talks in Seoul and said they would hold another round of meetings in April.

But the relationship has been strained by the recent diplomatic crisis over North Korea's nuclear ambitions and violations of non-proliferation agreements.

The two nations have remained technically at war since 1953, when they signed an armistice. They have yet to conclude a peace treaty.