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South Korean President Rejects Extension of Summit Scandal Investigation - 2003-06-23

South Korea's president has refused to extend an investigation into allegations the previous administration was involved in bribing North Korea to arrange a historic summit.

President Roh Moo-Hyun on Monday rejected a special counsel's request to extend the investigation, which concludes this week.

At issue is the secret transfer of $500 million to North Korea by South Korea's Hyundai conglomerate.

It is alleged that the administration of former President Kim Dae-Jung masterminded the deal to get North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to attend the summit three years ago. The independent counsel has already detained some of the ex-president's top associates.

Opposition parties have demanded that the investigation zero in on the 78-year-old former president. But some see the probe as a political witch-hunt against Mr. Kim, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for arranging the summit in Pyongyang.

Political analyst Scott Snyder at the Asia Foundation in South Korea says one issue is the connection between the former president and his successor. President Roh has vowed to carry on Mr. Kim's Sunshine Policy of engagement with North Korea. "Mr. Roh is the ruling party's successor to former President Kim Dae-jung and I think it would have been very uncomfortable to see an investigation go forward that could further implicate the former president, who was a political ally of President Roh Moo-hyun," he says.

The inter-Korean summit in 2000 led to a warming of ties between the two Koreas, divided for nearly 60 years. Relations have since soured because of revelations that North Korea is developing nuclear weapons in violation of several international accords.

The ruling Millennium Democratic Party has warned the probe would further damage inter-Korean ties.

The chairman of the opposition Grand National Party vows there will be a tough fight over the issue. He says President Roh will be punished by history if not by the assembly for quashing the summit investigation.