Over the past quarter century, South Korean theocrat Sun Myung Moon has been one of the Bush family’s major benefactors – both politically and financially – while enjoying what appears to be protection against federal investigations into evidence that his cult-like organization has functioned as a criminal enterprise.
Indeed, the newest disclosure about Moon funneling money to a Bush family entity bears many of the earmarks of Moon’s business strategy of laundering money through a complex maze of front companies and cut-outs so it can’t be easily followed. In this case, according to an article in the Houston Chronicle, Moon’s Washington Times Foundation gave $1 million to the Greater Houston Community Foundation, which in turn acted as a conduit for donations to the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library.
The Chronicle obtained indirect confirmation that Moon’s money was passing through the Houston foundation to the Bush library from Bush family spokesman Jim McGrath. Asked whether Moon’s $1 million had ended up there, McGrath responded, “We’re in an uncomfortable position. … If a donor doesn’t want to be identified we need to honor their privacy.”
But when asked whether the $1 million was intended to curry favor with the Bush family to get President George W. Bush to grant a pardon for Moon’s 1982 felony tax fraud conviction, McGrath answered, “If that’s why he gave the grant, he’s throwing his money away. … That’s not the way the Bushes operate.”
McGrath then added, “President Bush has been very grateful for the friendship shown to him by the Washington Times Foundation, and the Washington Times serves a vital role in Washington. But there can’t be any connection to any kind of a pardon.” [Houston Chronicle, June 8, 2006, citing the work of private researcher Larry Zilliox.]
But Moon has many other interests beyond clearing his criminal record with a presidential pardon.
While it’s true Moon has sought a pardon since the latter years of Ronald Reagan’s administration, Moon also has counted on powerful political connections to shield his business activities from renewed federal investigation that otherwise might have pried into criminal offenses ranging from money laundering to evading the U.S. embargo on the rogue state of North Korea.
Moon has achieved this remarkable insulation for his operations largely by spreading around hundreds of millions of dollars for political activities, charitable functions and the publication of one of Washington’s daily newspapers, the Washington Times.
The founder of the South Korean-based Unification Church has made himself particularly useful to the Bush family and other prominent Republicans who have returned the favor by speaking at his events, lavishing praise on his business operations and granting him Capitol Hill space for some of his ceremonies.
Bags of Cash
Faced with Moon’s political clout, federal authorities have looked the other way for more than two decades even when principals within Moon’s organization have made public declarations about its continuing criminal practices.
For instance, Moon’s former daughter-in-law, Nansook Hong, admitted to participating in money-laundering schemes by personally smuggling cash from South Korea into the United States. She also said she witnessed other cases in which bags of cash were carried into the United States and delivered to Moon’s businesses.
Moon “demonstrated contempt for U.S. law every time he accepted a paper bag full of untraceable, undeclared cash collected from true believers” who smuggled the money in from overseas, Nansook Hong wrote in her 1998 book, In the Shadows of the Moons.
Nansook Hong’s allegations were corroborated by other disaffected Moon disciples in press interviews and in civil court proceedings.
Maria Madelene Pretorious, a former Unification Church member who worked at Moon’s Manhattan Center, a New York City music venue and recording studio, testified at a court hearing in Massachusetts that in December of 1993 or January of 1994, one of Moon’s sons, Hyo Jin Moon, returned from a trip to Korea “with $600,000 in cash which he had received from his father. … Myself along with three or four other members that worked at Manhattan Center saw the cash in bags, shopping bags.”
In an interview with me in the mid-1990s, Pretorious said Asian church members would bring cash into the United States where it would be circulated through Moon’s business empire as a way to launder it. At the center of this financial operation, Pretorious said, was One-Up Corp., a Delaware-registered holding company that owned many Moon enterprises including the Manhattan Center and New World Communications, the parent company of the Washington Times.
“Once that cash is at the Manhattan Center, it has to be accounted for,” Pretorious said. “The way that’s done is to launder the cash. Manhattan Center gives cash to a business called Happy World which owns restaurants. … Happy World needs to pay illegal aliens. … Happy World pays some back to the Manhattan Center for ‘services rendered.’ The rest goes to One-Up and then comes back to Manhattan Center as an investment.”
The lack of federal investigative interest in these admissions of guilt was especially curious because evidence of Moon’s money-laundering dated back to the late 1970s when Moon’s operations came under the scrutiny of a congressional probe into a South Korean influence-buying plot called “Koreagate.” Investigators discovered Moon’s pattern of money transfers emanating from mysterious sources in Asia and ending up funding media, political, educational and religious activities in the United States.
By the early 1980s, that federal money-laundering probe had led to the criminal charges against Moon for tax evasion, a prosecution that the new Reagan-Bush Justice Department tried to derail but couldn’t because it was being handled by career prosecutors in New York City. Moon was convicted in 1982 and imprisoned for 13 months.
But Moon’s influence-buying operation was only just beginning.
He launched the Washington Times in 1982 and its staunch support for Reagan-Bush political interests quickly made it a favorite of Reagan, Bush and other influential Republicans. Moon also made sure that his steady flow of cash found its way into the pockets of key conservative operatives, especially when they were most in need, when they were facing financial crises.
For instance, when the New Right’s direct-mail whiz Richard Viguerie fell on hard times in the late 1980s, Moon had a corporation run by a chief lieutenant, Bo Hi Pak, buy one of Viguerie’s properties for $10 million. [See Orange County Register, Dec. 21, 1987; Washington Post, Oct. 15, 1989]
Moon also used the Washington Times and its affiliated publications to create seemingly legitimate conduits to funnel money to individuals and companies. In another example of Moon’s largesse, the Washington Times hired Viguerie to conduct a pricy direct-mail subscription drive, boosting his profit margin.
Another case of saving a right-wing icon occurred when the Rev. Jerry Falwell was facing financial ruin over the debts piling up at Liberty University.
But the fundamentalist Christian school in Lynchburg, Va., got a last-minute bail-out in the mid-1990s ostensibly from two Virginia businessmen, Dan Reber and Jimmy Thomas, who used their non-profit Christian Heritage Foundation to snap up a large chunk of Liberty’s debt for $2.5 million, a fraction of its face value.
Falwell rejoiced and called the moment “the greatest single day of financial advantage” in the school’s history, even though it was accomplished at the disadvantage of many small true-believing investors who had bought the church construction bonds through a Texas company.
But Falwell’s secret benefactor behind the debt purchase was Sun Myung Moon, who was kept in the background partly because of his controversial Biblical interpretations that hold Jesus to have been a failure and because of Moon’s alleged brainwashing of thousands of young Americans, often shattering their bonds with their biological families.
Moon had used his tax-exempt Women’s Federation for World Peace to funnel $3.5 million to the Reber-Thomas Christian Heritage Foundation, the non-profit that purchased the school’s debt. I stumbled onto this Moon-Falwell connection by examining the Internal Revenue Service filings of Moon’s front groups.
The Women Federation’s vice president Susan Fefferman confirmed that the $3.5 million grant had gone to “Mr. Falwell’s people” for the benefit of Liberty University. The indirect funneling of money to Falwell’s school paralleled the technique used a decade later to donate funds to George H.W. Bush’s presidential library. [For more on Moon’s funding of the Right, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]
Moon also used the Women’s Federation to pay substantial speaking fees to George H.W. Bush, who gave talks at Moon-sponsored events. In September 1995, Bush and his wife, Barbara, gave six speeches in Asia for the Women’s Federation. In one speech on Sept. 14 to 50,000 Moon supporters in Tokyo, Bush said “what really counts is faith, family and friends.”
Moon’s wife, Hak Ja Han Moon, followed the ex-President and announced that “it has to be Reverend Moon to save the United States, which is in decline because of the destruction of the family and moral decay.” [Washington Post, Sept. 15, 1995]
In summer 1996, Bush was lending his prestige to Moon again. Bush addressed the Moon-connected Family Federation for World Peace in Washington, an event that gained notoriety when comedian Bill Cosby tried to back out of his contract after learning of Moon’s connection. Bush had no such qualms. [Washington Post, July 30, 1996]
In fall 1996, Moon needed the ex-President’s help again. Moon was trying to replicate his Washington Times influence in South America by opening a regional newspaper, Tiempos del Mundo. But South American journalists were recounting unsavory chapters of Moon’s history, including his links to South Korea’s feared intelligence service and various neo-fascist organizations.
In the early 1980s, Moon had used friendships with the military dictatorships in Argentina and Uruguay – which had been responsible for tens of thousands of political murders – to invest in those two countries. There also were allegations of Moon’s links to the region’s major drug traffickers. [For details on the drug ties, see Robert Parry’s Lost History.]
Moon’s disciples fumed about the critical stories and accused the Argentine news media of trying to sabotage Moon’s plans for an inaugural gala in Buenos Aires on Nov. 23, 1996. “The local press was trying to undermine the event,” complained the church’s internal newsletter, Unification News.
Given the controversy, Argentina’s elected president, Carlos Menem, decided to reject Moon’s invitation.
But Moon had a trump card: the endorsement of an ex-President of the United States, George H.W. Bush. Agreeing to speak at the newspaper’s launch, Bush flew aboard a private plane, arriving in Buenos Aires on Nov. 22. Bush stayed at Menem’s official residence, the Olivos.
As the headliner at the newspaper’s inaugural gala, Bush saved the day, Moon’s followers gushed. “Mr. Bush’s presence as keynote speaker gave the event invaluable prestige,” wrote the Unification News. “Father [Moon] and Mother [Mrs. Moon] sat with several of the True Children [Moon’s offspring] just a few feet from the podium” where Bush spoke.
“I want to salute Reverend Moon,” Bush declared. “A lot of my friends in South America don’t know about the Washington Times, but it is an independent voice. The editors of the Washington Times tell me that never once has the man with the vision [Moon] interfered with the running of the paper, a paper that in my view brings sanity to Washington, D.C.”
Bush’s speech was so effusive that it surprised even Moon’s followers. “Once again, heaven turned a disappointment into a victory,” the Unification News exulted. “Everyone was delighted to hear his compliments. We knew he would give an appropriate and ‘nice’ speech, but praise in Father’s presence was more than we expected. … It was vindication. We could just hear a sigh of relief from Heaven.”
While Bush’s assertion about Moon’s Washington Times as a voice of “sanity” may be a matter of opinion, Bush’s vouching for its editorial independence simply wasn’t true. Almost since it opened in 1982, a string of senior editors and correspondents have resigned, citing the manipulation of the news by Moon and his subordinates. The first editor, James Whelan, resigned in 1984, confessing that “I have blood on my hands” for helping Moon’s church achieve greater legitimacy.
Ties That Bind
But Bush’s boosterism was just what Moon needed in South America. “The day after,” the Unification News observed, “the press did a 180-degree about-turn once they realized that the event had the support of a U.S. President.” With Bush’s help, Moon had gained another beachhead for his worldwide business-religious-political-media empire.
After the event, Menem told reporters from La Nacion that Bush had claimed privately to be only a mercenary who did not really know Moon. “Bush told me he came and charged money to do it,” Menem said. [La Nacion, Nov. 26, 1996]
But Bush was not telling Menem the whole story. By fall 1996, Bush and Moon had been working in political tandem for at least a decade and a half. The ex-President also had been earning huge speaking fees as a front man for Moon for more than a year.
Throughout these public appearances for Moon, Bush’s office refused to divulge how much Moon-affiliated organizations have paid the ex-President. But estimates of Bush’s fee for the Buenos Aires appearance alone ran between $100,000 and $500,000. Sources close to the Unification Church told me that the total spending on Bush ran into the millions, with one source telling me that Bush stood to make as much as $10 million from Moon’s organization.
The senior George Bush may have had a political motive, too. By 1996, sources close to Bush were saying the ex-President was working hard to enlist well-to-do conservatives and their money behind the presidential candidacy of his son, George W. Bush. Moon was one of the deepest pockets in right-wing circles.
North Korean Cash
Moon, who has the status of a U.S. permanent resident alien, has skirted other federal laws, including prohibitions on financial relations with the hard-line communist government of North Korea.
Despite Moon’s history of extreme anti-communism, Moon began spreading money around inside North Korea – much as he has in other countries – while seeking business advantages during the first Bush administration, according to U.S. intelligence documents.
U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency documents, which I obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request, showed Moon’s organization paying millions of dollars to North Korean leaders. The payments included a $3 million “birthday present” to current communist leader Kim Jong Il and offshore payments amounting to “several tens of million dollars” to the previous communist dictator, Kim Il Sung, the partially declassified documents said.
Yet, in the 1990s, while Moon was passing out money, North Korea was scrambling for the resources to develop missiles and other advanced weaponry, including a nuclear weapons capability. Moon’s activities attracted the attention of the Defense Intelligence Agency because it is responsible for monitoring potential military threats to the United States.
Moon negotiated one North Korean business deal in 1991, after face-to-face meetings with Kim Il Sung, the longtime communist leader, the DIA documents said.
“These talks took place secretly, without the knowledge of the South Korean government,” the DIA wrote on Feb. 2, 1994. “In the original deal with Kim [Il Sung], Moon paid several tens of million dollars as a down-payment into an overseas account,” the DIA said in a cable dated Aug. 14, 1994.
The DIA said Moon’s organization also delivered money to Kim Il Sung’s son and successor, Kim Jong Il.
“In 1993, the Unification Church sold a piece of property located in Pennsylvania,” the DIA reported on Sept. 9, 1994. “The profit on the sale, approximately $3 million was sent through a bank in China to the Hong Kong branch of the KS [South Korean] company ‘Samsung Group.’ The money was later presented to Kim Jung Il [Kim Jong Il] as a birthday present.”
After Kim Il Sung’s death in 1994 and his succession by his son, Kim Jong Il, Moon dispatched his longtime aide, Bo Hi Pak, to ensure that the business deals were still on track with Kim Jong Il “and his coterie,” the DIA reported.
“If necessary, Moon authorized Pak to deposit a second payment for Kim Jong Il,” the DIA wrote.
The DIA declined to elaborate on the documents. “As for the documents you have, you have to draw your own conclusions,” said DIA spokesman, U.S. Navy Capt. Michael Stainbrook. [To see two of the DIA documents, click here.]
Contacted in Seoul, South Korea, Bo Hi Pak, a former publisher of the Washington Times, denied that payments were made to individual North Korean leaders and called “absolutely untrue” the DIA’s description of the $3 million land sale benefiting Kim Jong Il. But Bo Hi Pak acknowledged that Moon met with North Korean officials and negotiated business deals with them in the early 1990s. Pak said the North Korean business investments were structured through South Korean entities.
“Reverend Moon is not doing this in his own name,” Pak said.
Pak said he went to North Korea in 1994, after Kim Il Sung’s death, only to express “condolences” to Kim Jong Il on behalf of Moon and his wife. Pak denied that another purpose of the trip was to pass money to Kim Jong Il or to his associates.
Asked about the seeming contradiction between Moon’s avowed anti-communism and his friendship with leaders of a communist state, Pak said, “This is time for reconciliation. We’re not looking at ideological differences. We are trying to help them out” with food and other humanitarian needs.
Samsung officials said they could find no information in their files about the alleged $3 million payment.
North Korean officials clearly valued their relationship with Moon. In February 2000, on Moon’s 80th birthday, Kim Jong Il sent Moon a gift of rare wild ginseng, an aromatic root used medicinally, Reuters reported.
Because of the long-term U.S. embargo against North Korea – eased only in 2000 – Moon’s alleged payments to the communist leaders raised potential legal issues for Moon especially if some of the money stemmed from a land sale in Pennsylvania.
“Nobody in the United States was supposed to be providing funding to anybody in North Korea, period, under the Treasury (Department’s) sanction regime,” said Jonathan Winer, former deputy assistant secretary of state handling international crime.
The U.S. embargo of North Korea dated back to the Korean War. With a few exceptions for humanitarian goods, the embargo barred trade and financial dealings between North Korea and “all U.S. citizens and permanent residents wherever they are located, … and all branches, subsidiaries and controlled affiliates of U.S. organizations throughout the world.”
Moon became a permanent resident of the United States in 1973, according to Justice Department records. When interviewed in 2000, Bo Hi Pak said Moon had kept his “green card” status. Though often in South Korea and South America, Moon maintained a residence near Tarrytown, north of New York City, and controlled dozens of affiliated U.S. companies.
Direct payments to foreign leaders in connection with business deals also could prompt questions about possible violations of the U.S. Corrupt Practices Act, a prohibition against overseas bribery.
Ironically, although Moon reportedly gave North Korea desperately needed foreign capital, Moon’s Washington Times attacked the Clinton administration for failing to take a more aggressive stand against North Korea’s missile program. The newspaper called the administration’s policy an “abdication of responsibility for national security.”
Moon also was consolidating his influence with American conservatives as he was growing increasingly anti-American. While former President Bush was hailing Moon in public in the mid-1990s, Moon was calling the United States “Satan’s harvest” and claiming that American women descended from a “line of prostitutes.”
But Moon understood one basic rule of politics that applied the world over: money talks. He knew he could get politicians to do his bidding if the bribes were big enough. In one sermon on Jan. 2, 1996, Moon was unusually blunt about how he expected his wealth to buy influence among the powerful in South America, just as it had in Washington.
“Father has been practicing the philosophy of fishing here,” Moon said, through an interpreter who spoke of Moon in the third person. “He [Moon] gave the bait to Uruguay and then the bigger fish of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay kept their mouths open, waiting for a bigger bait silently. The bigger the fish, the bigger the mouth. Therefore, Father is able to hook them more easily.”
For Moon, there has been no bigger fish than the powerful Bush family and its many friends in the U.S. government.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It’s also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth.’