Atlanta Journal-Constitution September 22, 2004
S. Korean Who Contacted Kerry Worker A Spy
A South Korean Embassy official who made contact with an Alpharetta-based John Kerry fund-raiser to talk about creating a political group for Korean-Americans has been identified as a spy, raising concerns among U.S. officials that he or Seoul may have tried to influence the presidential election.
South Korean and U.S. officials told The Associated Press that Chung Byung-Man, a consular officer in Los Angeles, worked for South Korea's National Intelligence Service at the time he was meeting with Rick Yi of Alpharetta, then the Kerry campaign's vice chairman for fund-raising.
Yi, who owns a high-tech company and has raised more than $500,000 for Democratic causes, including the Kerry campaign, said Tuesday he had no idea Chung was a spy.
"If I would have had any suspicions, if I had seen anything illegal or unethical about what he was doing, I would have reported him to authorities myself," Yi said.
A spokesman for the South Korean Consulate said Chung was sent home in May amid "speculation" he had become involved with the Kerry campaign and the Democratic Party through contacts with Yi.
The State Department said it had discussed Chung's reported activities with the South Korean government and had no reason to doubt Seoul's representations that he was an intelligence agent.
The State Department believes Chung's contacts with donors and fund-raisers, if accurately described in reports, were "inconsistent" with the 1963 Vienna Convention, which prohibits visiting foreign officials from interfering in the internal politics and affairs of host countries, a spokesman for the department's legal affairs office said.
Kerry campaign spokesman Chad Clanton said the campaign did not know that Chung was an intelligence agent or that Yi, a key fund-raiser in the Asian-American community, was meeting with him until it was brought to light by the AP.
Yi, a former White House military attache during Bill Clinton's presidency, resigned from his Kerry fund-raising role last spring after it was reported that he and other fund-raisers had met with Chung, who was then identified only as a South Korean diplomat.
Kerry returned $4,000 in donations Yi had solicited because of concerns about their origins.
Yi said Tuesday he resigned not because he had done anything wrong but because he was tired of "the mass media getting on my back."
Yi said he first met Chung several years ago, when Chung was attached to the consular office in Atlanta. "I saw him once or twice at the consul general's house, along with a lot of other folks," Yi said.
Yi said he later got a call from Chung, then living in Los Angeles, asking him to help some influential Korean-Americans form a political committee. "I never met with him alone," Yi said. "Usually it was in a small group of three to five people."
Yi said Chung never discussed Kerry or the upcoming presidential election. "It was all about how Korean-Americans can be more empowered," he said.
South Korea has been frustrated over the deadlock in talks on North Korea's nuclear activities while at the same facing the Bush administration's planned withdrawal of thousands of U.S. troops from the tense region.
"There's an awful lot of people in this [South Korean] government who can't stand the Bush administration and would love to see Bush lose," said Nicholas Eberstadt, a Korea expert at the American Enterprise Institute.