U.S. Congress Members Are Implicated in Koreagate Scandal Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The events later known as Koreagate were exposed publicly during the administration of U.S. president Jimmy Carter. The South Korean government had feared that Carter—and Richard Nixon before him—would withdraw a substantial number of U.S. troops from the region. To ensure that U.S. politicians would favor South Korea, large amounts of cash were distributed by South Korean businessman Tongsun Park to at least one-third of the members of the U.S. Congress, leading to the convictions of dozens of lawmakers.

Summary of Event

In 1970, South Korean president Park Chung Hee authorized Operation White Snow, under which the Korean Central Central Intelligence Agency, Korean Intelligence Agency (KCIA) provided between $500,000 and $1 million per year to enhance his influence in Washington, D.C. At about the same time, U.S. president Richard Nixon had intimated that he might cut the U.S. defense commitment to South Korea from 60,000 to 40,000 soldiers, and indeed that reduction occurred in 1971. Moreover, in 1974, sentiment at the United Nations;and South Korea[South Korea] United Nations for an end to the stationing of U.S. soldiers in South Korea approached a majority in the U.N. General Assembly. [kw]Koreagate Scandal, U.S. Congress Members Are Implicated in (1976-1977) "Koreagate"[Koreagate] Congress, U.S.;and “Koreagate”[Koreagate] Operation White Snow Bribery;"Koreagate"[Koreagate] Park, Tongsun Carter, Jimmy [p]Carter, Jimmy;and “Koreagate”[Koreagate] "Koreagate"[Koreagate] Congress, U.S.;and “Koreagate”[Koreagate] Operation White Snow Bribery;"Koreagate"[Koreagate] Park, Tongsun Carter, Jimmy [p]Carter, Jimmy;and “Koreagate”[Koreagate] [g]United States;1976-1977: U.S. Congress Members Are Implicated in Koreagate Scandal[01570] [g]South Korea;1976-1977: U.S. Congress Members Are Implicated in Koreagate Scandal[01570] [c]Corruption;1976-1977: U.S. Congress Members Are Implicated in Koreagate Scandal[01570] [c]International relations;1976-1977: U.S. Congress Members Are Implicated in Koreagate Scandal[01570] [c]Government;1976-1977: U.S. Congress Members Are Implicated in Koreagate Scandal[01570] [c]Human rights;1976-1977: U.S. Congress Members Are Implicated in Koreagate Scandal[01570] Hanna, Richard T. Fraser, Donald M. Park Chung Hee Moon, Sun Myung Unification Church Albert, Carl

South Korean businessman Tongsun Park, left at table, gave cash gifts to as many as one-third of the members of the U.S. Congress.

(Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The impact of such a dramatic reduction in the U.S. military’s staff commitment to South Korea was viewed in Seoul, South Korea’s capital, as a possible signal to North Korea that the United States was less interested in defending the south in case of attack. Moreover, Koreans doing business around U.S. military bases in Korea suffered losses.

Members of the U.S. embassy in Seoul soon found out about Operation White Snow and warned the Korean government against influence peddling. Two U.S. ambassadors in Seoul, who warned visiting members of the U.S. Congress of the illegal activity, were transferred to other diplomatic posts, thereby keeping them quiet. South Korean army personnel were fighting alongside U.S. troops in Vietnam, so the U.S. Defense Department did not want a scandal to jeopardize the supply of troops. Nevertheless, the State Department, U.S.;and “Koreagate”[Koreagate] State Department complained to the Korean embassy in Washington, D.C.

In Washington, meanwhile, rumors spread about nondescript white paper envelopes stuffed with about $20,000 in $100 bills that were being handed out to members of Congress by Korean business executive Tongsun Park, who was secretly a KCIA agent. Park, a charming host at many lavish parties in Washington who had many friends dating from his days as a student at Georgetown University, had arranged a clandestine deal with Congressman Richard T. Hanna to use commissions on the sale of one million tons of Louisiana rice to South Korea from 1966 to 1976 as bribe money. Hanna and others pocketed $200,000 or more apiece. Park also encouraged the hiring of beautiful young women for employment in congressional offices.

Park was even more successful when Korean-born Suzi Park Thompson became legislative aide to Speaker of the House Carl Albert. On her own, Thompson arranged entertainment for those being bribed, and Albert received several gifts while on trips to South Korea. The KCIA also gave money to Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Reunification Church to promote a positive image of South Korea.

Korean critics of President Park in the United States, some of whom were under KCIA surveillance, quietly confirmed the existence of Operation White Snow to Congress. Some four hundred or more Korean business executives, students, and professors in the United States were paid for undercover jobs, such as threatening dissidents to keep them quiet. In 1976, word leaked out that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other federal agencies were investigating the affair. A federal grand jury began its investigation as well by the fall. New York Times;and “Koreate”[Koreagate] The New York Times began reporting on the U.S. government investigations on October 1. On November 30, the House Ethics Committee made public its request for help from the Justice Department to look into the possible bribing of Congress members.

Also in November, Jimmy Presidential campaigns, U.S.;Jimmy Carter[Carter] Presidential campaigns, U.S.;1976 Carter was elected U.S. president. One of his campaign promises was to reduce the number of U.S. troops in South Korea from 40,000 to 14,000 as a way of signaling his dissatisfaction over human rights problems in the regime of President Park, who was arresting dissidents and suppressing trade union activity. Carter also threatened to reduce economic aid to South Korea. With a critical U.S. president in office, Operation White Snow’s mandate expanded: it now had to prevent Congress from approving the partial withdrawal of U.S. troops from Korea, to maintain economic aid to South Korea, and to stop congressional criticism of human rights violations in South Korea. After Koreagate became public, however, Carter cut U.S. troop levels in South Korea by only 4,000.

The South Koreans in the United States then doled out even more money. Congress members who were implicated included Representative Charles Wilson of California, who married a Korean woman during this period. He received a $1,000 wedding gift from Tongsun Park that was duly recorded on the list of wedding gifts, one of the few records of a payment from Park to a member of Congress. In 1977, Park fled the United States before he was charged with thirty-six counts of conspiracy, bribery, mail Mail fraud;Tongsun Park[Park] fraud, failure to register as a foreign agent, and making illegal political Campaign contributions;foreign contributions.

Congress initially was fearful of looking into the matter, which eventually implicated at least one hundred of its members. Nevertheless, Representative Donald M. Fraser, on April 4, 1977, announced that congressional hearings were set to begin on U.S.-Korea relations, with particular attention to the possible influence-peddling of Tongsun Park, the role of the KCIA in the United States, as well as the suspicious activities of the Reverend Moon.

The term “Koreagate” entered the lexicon around this time, as Fraser’s hearings drew wide publicity. The committee heard key testimony from a retired State State Department, U.S.;and “Koreagate”[Koreagate] Department diplomat and then from Park, who was subpoenaed by the committee and federal grand juries to testify under immunity from prosecution. His admission that he distributed cash to thirty members of Congress led to ethics investigations and criminal prosecutions of those members.

Later in 1978, Fraser’s subcommittee published a report, primarily recommending prosecution of the Reverend Moon. The House Ethics Committee found that at least ten members of the House had received slush funds, often during trips to Korea. However, most funds were earmarked to cover the legal expenses of the wives of the Congress members.

Impact

The House and Senate passed a strict ethics reform bill in 1977. The House Ethics Committee took disciplinary action after an investigation of its own. Representative Wilson was reprimanded by the House in 1978, censured for financial misconduct in 1980, and left Congress after his term expired. Other reprimanded Congress members were Representatives John McFall and Edward Roybal. Another, Otto Passman, was seriously ill and was not disciplined. Edward Patten was exonerated. The statute of limitations had run out on three others. Hanna was prosecuted in federal court, found guilty, and sentenced to six to thirty months in prison.

Although Park testified under immunity for prosecution in 1977, he continued gift-giving while traveling between Korea and Washington, D.C. In 2005, he received an illegal $2 million from Iraq Iraq and was sentenced to prison for five years in 2007 for giving false testimony to the FBI regarding his role in the Oil-for-Food Programme United Nations;Oil-for-Food Programme[Oil for Food Programme] oil-for-food scandal involving the United Nations and Iraq.

Foreign influence on U.S. elections continued to be an issue in later elections, with donations from abroad considered suspect. Indeed, the chief counsel to the Ethics Committee who investigated recipients of Park’s bribe money played the same role in the investigation of the Iran-Contra Iran-Contra weapons scandal[Iran Contra weapons scandal] affair one decade later.

Reverend Moon, who had claimed that his church was a nonprofit organization exempt from taxes, was found guilty of tax Tax evasion;Sun Myung Moon[Moon] evasion because of his involvement in politics. Subsequently, the U.S. Internal Internal Revenue Service;and churches[churches] Revenue Service began to crack down on churches that claimed tax exemption while engaging in political advocacy. "Koreagate"[Koreagate] Congress, U.S.;and “Koreagate”[Koreagate] Operation White Snow Bribery;"Koreagate"[Koreagate] Park, Tongsun Carter, Jimmy [p]Carter, Jimmy;and “Koreagate”[Koreagate]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Boettcher, Robert. Gifts of Deceit: Sun Myung Moon, Tongsun Park, and the Korean Scandal. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1980. The definitive account of the scandal by the staff director of the House subcommittee chaired by Representative Fraser.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lee, Byeong-cheon, ed. Developmental Dictatorship and the Park Chung-hee Era: The Shaping of Modernity in the Republic of Korea. Paramus, N.J.: Homa & Sekey Books, 2005. Twelve noted Korean social scientists examine the relationship between the economic miracle under Park’s rule and his social repression.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lee, Chae-jin. A Troubled Peace: U.S. Policy and the Two Koreas. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. A comprehensive analysis of U.S.-Korea relations and U.S. policy toward North and South Korea, with a chapter on Koreagate.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Moore, Robin, and Gene Zack. Suzi: The Korean Connection. Westport, Conn.: Condor, 1978. A self-serving account of Koreagate as told by Suzi Park Thompson to Moore and Zack.

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