From petty local scams to international money-laundering, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s political/media/business/religious empire has all the looks of a global “ongoing criminal enterprise,” albeit one with enough powerful friends in Washington to protect it from serious consequences.
Benefiting from relationships with the Bush family and other prominent Republicans, Moon’s Unification Church slips away from one illegal scheme after another – despite overwhelming evidence and first-person admissions about the systematic pattern of the criminality. Somehow U.S. authorities never put two and two together.
Even Moon’s 1982 felony conviction for tax evasion arising from an earlier money-laundering scheme and public confessions from his ex-daughter-in-law and other church insiders about later financial conspiracies don’t clue in the feds to the bigger picture before them.
So, while prosecutors mostly look the other way, Moon continues to pour an estimated $100 million a year into his influential Washington Times newspaper and other pro-Republican media outlets. Additional millions have gone to fund right-wing political conferences; to pay speaking fees to world leaders, such as former President George H.W. Bush; and to bail political allies out of financial troubles.
The latest example of a Moon-connected operation getting a legal break despite breaking the law was the exposure of a decade-long scheme led by a local pastor of Moon’s Unification Church that poached thousands of baby leopard sharks from San Francisco Bay. The undersized sharks were sold illegally to private buyers in the United States, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
The local pastor, Kevin Thompson, claimed that Moon personally approved the scheme and encouraged its expansion.
In a recorded sermon from 2003, Thompson told his congregation that Moon became excited when he heard about the shark-catching operation. “He told me, you know you need 20 boats out there fishing,” Thompson said. “He had this big plan drawn out.”
Though the poaching never reached that scale, it did use church-owned boats and stored the catch at a San Leandro, California, distribution center for one of the largest U.S. sushi wholesalers, True World Foods Inc., a business affiliated with the Unification Church. [AP, Feb. 12, 2007]
Despite the evidence of these close Moon connections to the illegal scheme, the Bush administration reached a “non-prosecution” agreement with Moon’s church in which it agreed to pay $500,000 to help restore the damaged habitat. (While U.S. Attorney Kevin V. Ryan was deliberating this case, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales demanded his resignation as one of nine U.S. attorneys to be replaced by Bush political loyalists.)
For his part, pastor Thompson pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one year in prison. Another church member, John Newberry, received a six-month sentence.
But senior Unification Church officials denied that Moon, now 87, had “any kind of personal knowledge or involvement with the details or the particulars,” according to church spokesman Phillip Schanker, who claimed that any conversation between Moon and Thompson would have been a casual chat about fishing, nothing more.
Small & Big Scams
Still, the poaching scheme fits with the church’s long-standing pattern of financing its local activities through relatively small scams. Bigger-ticket items, like the Washington Times, rely on smuggling vast sums of money from overseas, according to former church insiders, including Nansook Hong, Moon’s ex-daughter-in-law.
In both Asia and South America, Moon’s operations have been linked to major crime syndicates including the Japanese yakuza and Latin American cocaine cartels.
When I was investigating Moon’s activities in the mid-1990s, I interviewed several former church insiders who explained how the smaller and bigger operations meshed. Local church-related operations were expected to finance themselves often through petty criminality while the national business operations served to launder overseas money.
For instance, John Stacey, a former New York University student who was recruited into Moon’s organization in 1992 and became a youth leader in the Pacific Northwest, said small-scale fraud covered local expenses.
At first, like most newcomers, Stacey worked as part of “mobile fund-raising teams” that traveled by van from town to town selling flowers and other cheap items. The fund-raisers always hid their links to Moon and presented themselves as students raising money for some worthy cause, Stacey said.
Stacey said he broke that rule only once, when going door to door selling wind chimes on an island off the coast of Alaska.
“I told everyone that I was doing this for Reverend Sun Myung Moon,” Stacey said. “I didn’t make a penny. It was the only time in four years that I was honest.”
With his intelligence, hard work and clean looks, Stacey rose quickly through the ranks. He opened an office for Moon’s Collegiate Association for the Research of Principles in Portland, Oregon, and became CARP’s Pacific Northwest leader in Seattle, Washington.
The fund-raising schemes also grew more sophisticated as the church phased out the “mobile fund-raising teams” because of bad publicity. Instead of roaming from city to city, local chapters sold gift items at mall kiosks before Christmas.
But always, Stacey said, there was the deception and the certainty that the end – advancing the cause of Moon’s church – justified the means.
Stacey said his chapter made $80,000 one holiday season by working a bait-and-switch scheme: the kiosk would display a decorative light which looked stunning with a powerful halogen bulb. But after the purchase, the customer was given a boxed lamp which contained a “much cheaper” and dimmer bulb.
“I was a con artist,” Stacey told me. “When I looked at the [church] leaders, they were all con artists. … Reverend Moon is training a race of very charming manipulators. … He’s creating almost an elite force of people who are very charming but very dangerous.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “One Mother’s Tale: Moon & Her Son.”]
Widows & Pagodas
Moon’s organization implemented similar but more lucrative schemes in Japan where superstitious widows proved to be easy marks for the sale of miniature pagodas and other ornaments dedicated to dead loved ones.
Some of this money was transferred to the United States. Eventually, however, thousands of consumer complaints led to legal judgments against Moon’s operation, with out-of-court settlements reportedly reaching into the hundreds of millions of dollars. [See, for instance, this report from the Washington Post, Aug. 4, 1996.]
While some Moon watchers believe these scams help explain Moon’s fortune – and how he could afford to lose an estimated $3 billion on the Washington Times alone – others suspect that Moon’s major funding comes from his close relationships with major underworld figures in Asia and South America.
Those ties date back several decades to negotiations conducted by one of Moon’s early South Korean supporters, Kim Jong-Pil, who founded the Korean CIA and headed up sensitive negotiations on bilateral relations between Tokyo and Seoul.
The negotiations put Kim Jong-Pil in touch with two other important figures in the Far East, Japanese rightists Yoshio Kodama and Ryoichi Sasakawa, who had been jailed as fascist war criminals at the end of World War II. A few years later, however, both Kodama and Sasakawa were freed by U.S. military intelligence officials.
The U.S. government turned to Kodama and Sasakawa for help in combating communist labor unions and student strikes, much as the CIA protected German Nazi war criminals who supplied intelligence and performed other services in the intensifying Cold War battles with European communists.
Kodama and Sasakawa also allegedly grew rich from their association with the yakuza, a shadowy organized crime syndicate that profited off drug smuggling, gambling and prostitution in Japan and Korea. Behind the scenes, Kodama and Sasakawa became power-brokers in Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
Kim Jong-Pil’s contacts with these right-wing leaders proved invaluable to Moon, who had made only a few converts in Japan by the early 1960s. Immediately after Kim Jong-Pil opened the door to Kodama and Sasakawa in late 1962, 50 leaders of an ultra-nationalist Japanese Buddhist sect converted en masse to the Unification Church, according to Yakuza, a book by David E. Kaplan and Alec Dubro.
“Sasakawa became an advisor to Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Japanese branch of the Unification Church” and collaborated with Moon in building far-right anti-communist organizations in Asia, Kaplan and Dubro wrote.
Moon’s church was active in the Asian People’s Anti-Communist League, a fiercely right-wing group founded by the governments of South Korea and Taiwan. In 1966, the group expanded into the World Anti-Communist League, an international alliance that brought together traditional conservatives with former Nazis, overt racialists and Latin American “death squad” operatives.
Authors Scott Anderson and Jon Lee Anderson wrote in their 1986 book, Inside the League, that Sun Myung Moon was one of five indispensable Asian leaders who made the World Anti-Communist League possible.
The five were Taiwan’s dictator Chiang Kai-shek, South Korea’s dictator Park Chung Hee, yakuza gangsters Sasakawa and Kodama, and Moon, “an evangelist who planned to take over the world through the doctrine of ‘Heavenly Deception,’” the Andersons wrote.
WACL became a well-financed worldwide organization after a secret meeting between Sasakawa and Moon, along with two Kodama representatives, on a lake in Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan. The purpose of the meeting was to create an anti-communist organization that “would further Moon’s global crusade and lend the Japanese yakuza leaders a respectable new façade,” the Andersons wrote.
Mixing organized crime and political extremism, of course, has a long tradition throughout the world. Violent political movements often have blended with criminal operations as a way to arrange covert funding, move operatives or acquire weapons.
Drug smuggling has proven to be a particularly effective way to fill the coffers of extremist movements, especially those that find ways to insinuate themselves within more legitimate operations of sympathetic governments or intelligence services.
In the quarter century after World War II, remnants of fascist movements managed to do just that. Shattered by the Allies, the surviving fascists got a new lease on political life with the start of the Cold War. They helped both Western democracies and right-wing dictatorships battle international communism.
Some Nazi leaders faced war-crimes tribunals after World War II, but others managed to make their escapes along “rat lines” to Spain or South America or they finagled intelligence relationships with the victorious powers, especially the United States.
Argentina became a natural haven given the pre-war alliance that existed between the European fascists and prominent Argentine military leaders, such as Juan Peron. The fleeing Nazis also found like-minded right-wing politicians and military officers across Latin America who already used repression to keep down the indigenous populations and the legions of the poor.
In the post-World War II years, some Nazi war criminals chose reclusive lives, but others, such as former SS officer Klaus Barbie, sold their intelligence skills to less-sophisticated security services in countries like Bolivia or Paraguay.
Other Nazis on the lam trafficked in narcotics. Often the lines crossed between intelligence operations and criminal conspiracies.
Auguste Ricord, a French war criminal who had collaborated with the Gestapo, set up shop in Paraguay and opened up the French Connection heroin channels to American Mafia drug kingpin Santo Trafficante Jr., who controlled much of the heroin traffic into the United States. Columns by Jack Anderson identified Ricord’s accomplices as some of Paraguay’s highest-ranking military officers.
Another French Connection mobster, Christian David, relied on protection of Argentine authorities. While trafficking in heroin, David also “took on assignments for Argentina’s terrorist organization, the Argentine Anti-Communist Alliance,” Henrik Kruger wrote in The Great Heroin Coup.
During President Richard Nixon’s “war on drugs,” U.S. authorities smashed the famous French Connection and won extraditions of Ricord and David in 1972 to face justice in the United States.
By the time the French Connection was severed, however, powerful Mafia drug lords had forged strong ties to South America’s military leaders. An infrastructure for the multi-billion-dollar drug trade, servicing the insatiable U.S. market, was in place.
Trafficante-connected groups also recruited displaced anti-Castro Cubans, who had ended up in Miami, needed work, and possessed some useful intelligence skills gained from the CIA’s training for the Bay of Pigs and other clandestine operations.
Heroin from the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia soon filled the void left by the broken French Connection and its mostly Middle Eastern heroin supply routes.
During this time of transition, Sun Myung Moon brought his evangelical message to South America. His first visit to Argentina had occurred in 1965 when he blessed a square behind the presidential Pink House in Buenos Aires. But he returned a decade later to make more lasting friendships.
Moon first sank down roots in Uruguay during the 12-year reign of right-wing military dictators who seized power in 1973. He also cultivated close relations with military dictators in Argentina, Paraguay and Chile, reportedly ingratiating himself with the juntas by helping the military regimes arrange arms purchases and by channeling money to allied right-wing organizations.
“Relationships nurtured with right-wing Latin Americans in the [World Anti-Communist] League led to acceptance of the [Unification] Church’s political and propaganda operations throughout Latin America,” the Andersons wrote in Inside the League.
“As an international money laundry, … the Church tapped into the capital flight havens of Latin America. Escaping the scrutiny of American and European investigators, the Church could now funnel money into banks in Honduras, Uruguay and Brazil, where official oversight was lax or nonexistent.”
In 1980, Moon made more friends in South America when a right-wing alliance of Bolivia military officers and drug dealers organized what became known as the Cocaine Coup. WACL associates, such as Alfred Candia, coordinated the arrival of some of the paramilitary operatives who assisted in the violent putsch.
Right-wing Argentine intelligence officers mixed with a contingent of young European neo-fascists collaborating with Nazi war criminal Barbie in carrying out the bloody coup that overthrew the elected left-of-center government.
The victory put into power a right-wing military dictatorship indebted to the drug lords. Bolivia became South America’s first narco-state.
One of the first well-wishers arriving in La Paz to congratulate the new government was Moon’s top lieutenant, Bo Hi Pak. The Moon organization published a photo of Pak meeting with the new strongman, General Garcia Meza.
After the visit to the mountainous capital, Pak declared, “I have erected a throne for Father Moon in the world’s highest city.”
According to later Bolivian government and newspaper reports, a Moon representative invested about $4 million in preparations for the coup. Bolivia’s WACL representatives also played key roles, and CAUSA, one of Moon’s anti-communist organizations, listed as members nearly all the leading Bolivian coup-makers.
Soon, Colonel Luis Arce-Gomez, a coup organizer and the cousin of cocaine kingpin Roberto Suarez, went into partnership with big narco-traffickers, including Trafficante’s Cuban-American smugglers. Nazi war criminal Barbie and his young neo-fascist followers found new work protecting Bolivia’s major cocaine barons and transporting drugs to the border.
“The paramilitary units – conceived by Barbie as a new type of SS – sold themselves to the cocaine barons,” German journalist Kai Hermann wrote. “The attraction of fast money in the cocaine trade was stronger than the idea of a national socialist revolution in Latin America.” [An English translation of Hermann’s article was published in Covert Action Information Bulletin, Winter 1986]
A month after the coup, General Garcia Meza participated in the Fourth Congress of the Latin American Anti-Communist Confederation, an arm of the World Anti-Communist League. Also attending that Fourth Congress was WACL president Woo Jae Sung, a leading Moon disciple.
As the drug lords consolidated their power in Bolivia, the Moon organization expanded its presence, too. Hermann reported that in early 1981, war criminal Barbie and Moon leader Thomas Ward were seen together in apparent prayer.
On May 31, 1981, Moon representatives sponsored a CAUSA reception at the Sheraton Hotel’s Hall of Freedom in La Paz. Moon’s lieutenant Bo Hi Pak and Bolivian strongman Garcia Meza led a prayer for President Reagan’s recovery from an assassination attempt.
In his speech, Bo Hi Pak declared, “God had chosen the Bolivian people in the heart of South America as the ones to conquer communism.” According to a later Bolivian intelligence report, the Moon organization sought to recruit an “armed church” of Bolivians, with about 7,000 Bolivians receiving some paramilitary training.
But by late 1981, the cocaine taint of Bolivia’s military junta was so deep and the corruption so staggering that U.S.-Bolivian relations were stretched to the breaking point.
“The Moon sect disappeared overnight from Bolivia as clandestinely as they had arrived,” Hermann reported.
The Cocaine Coup leaders soon found themselves on the run, too. Interior Minister Arce-Gomez was eventually extradited to Miami and was sentenced to 30 years in prison for drug trafficking. Drug lord Roberto Suarez got a 15-year prison term. General Garcia Meza became a fugitive from a 30-year sentence imposed on him in Bolivia for abuse of power, corruption and murder. Barbie was returned to France to face a life sentence for war crimes. He died in 1992.
But Moon’s organization suffered few negative repercussions from the Cocaine Coup. By the early 1980s, flush with seemingly unlimited funds, Moon had moved on to promoting himself with the new Republican administration in Washington. An invited guest to the Reagan-Bush Inauguration, Moon made his organization useful to President Reagan, Vice President Bush and other leading Republicans.
Where Moon got his cash remained one of Washington’s deepest mysteries – and one that few U.S. conservatives wanted to solve.
“Some Moonie-watchers even believe that some of the business enterprises are actually covers for drug trafficking,” wrote Scott and Jon Lee Anderson.
While Moon’s representatives have refused to detail how they’ve sustained their far-flung activities, Moon’s spokesmen have angrily denied recurring allegations about profiteering off illegal trafficking in weapons and drugs.
In a typical response to a gun-running question by the Argentine newspaper, Clarin, Moon’s representative Ricardo DeSena responded, “I deny categorically these accusations and also the barbarities that are said about drugs and brainwashing. Our movement responds to the harmony of the races, nations and religions and proclaims that the family is the school of love.” [Clarin, July 7, 1996]
Without doubt, however, Moon’s organization has had a long record of association with organized crime figures, including ones implicated in the drug trade. Besides collaborating with leaders of the Japanese yakuza and the Cocaine Coup government of Bolivia, Moon’s organization developed close ties with the Honduran military and the Nicaraguan contras who were permeated with drug smugglers.
Retired U.S. Army Gen. John K. Singlaub, a former WACL president, told me that “the Japanese [WACL] chapter was taken over almost entirely by Moonies.”
On the Offensive
Moon’s organization also used its political clout in Washington to intimidate or discredit government officials and journalists who tried to investigate Moon-connected criminal activities. In the mid-1980s, for instance, when journalists and congressional investigators began probing the evidence of contra-drug trafficking, they came under attacks from Moon’s Washington Times.
An Associated Press story that I co-wrote with Brian Barger about a Miami-based federal probe into gun- and drug-running by the contras was denigrated in an April 11, 1986, front-page Washington Times article with the headline: “Story on [contra] drug smuggling denounced as political ploy.”
When Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, conducted a Senate probe and uncovered additional evidence of contra-drug trafficking, the Washington Times denounced him, too. The newspaper first published articles depicting Kerry’s probe as a wasteful political witch hunt.
“Kerry’s anti-contra efforts extensive, expensive, in vain,” announced the headline of one Times article on Aug. 13, 1986.
But when Kerry exposed more contra wrongdoing, the Washington Times shifted tactics. In 1987 in front-page articles, it began accusing Kerry’s staff of obstructing justice because their investigation was supposedly interfering with Reagan-Bush administration efforts to get at the truth.
“Kerry staffers damaged FBI probe,” said one Times article that opened with the assertion: “Congressional investigators for Sen. John Kerry severely damaged a federal drug investigation last summer by interfering with a witness while pursuing allegations of drug smuggling by the Nicaraguan resistance, federal law enforcement officials said.” [Washington Times, Jan. 21, 1987]
Despite the attacks, Kerry’s contra-drug investigation eventually concluded that a number of contra units – both in Costa Rica and Honduras – were implicated in the cocaine trade.
“It is clear that individuals who provided support for the contras were involved in drug trafficking, the supply network of the contras was used by drug trafficking organizations, and elements of the contras themselves knowingly received financial and material assistance from drug traffickers,” Kerry’s investigation stated in a report issued April 13, 1989. “In each case, one or another agency of the U.S. government had information regarding the involvement either while it was occurring or immediately thereafter.”
Kerry’s investigation also found that Honduras had become an important way station for cocaine shipments heading north during the contra war.
“Elements of the Honduran military were involved … in the protection of drug traffickers from 1980 on,” the report said. “These activities were reported to appropriate U.S. government officials throughout the period. Instead of moving decisively to close down the drug trafficking by stepping up the DEA presence in the country and using the foreign assistance the United States was extending to the Hondurans as a lever, the United States closed the DEA office in Tegucigalpa and appears to have ignored the issue.” [Drug, Law Enforcement and Foreign Policy – the Kerry Report – December 1988]
The Kerry investigation represented an indirect challenge to Vice President George H.W. Bush, who had been named by President Reagan to head the South Florida Task Force for interdicting the flow of drugs into the United States and was later put in charge of the National Narcotics Border Interdiction System.
In short, Vice President Bush was the lead official in the U.S. government to cope with the drug trade, which he himself had dubbed a national security threat.
If the American voters came to believe that Bush had compromised his anti-drug responsibilities to protect the image of the Nicaraguan contras and other rightists in Central America, that judgment could have threatened the political future of Bush and his politically ambitious family.
By publicly challenging press and congressional investigations of this touchy subject, the Washington Times helped keep an unfavorable media spotlight from swinging in the direction of the Vice President.
The now-available evidence shows that there was much more to the contra-drug issue than either the Reagan-Bush administration or Moon’s organization wanted the American people to know in the 1980s.
The evidence – assembled over the years by investigators at the CIA, the Justice Department and other federal agencies – indicates that Bolivia’s Cocaine Coup operatives were only the first in a line of clever drug smugglers who tried to squeeze under the protective umbrella of Reagan’s favorite covert operation, the contra war. [For details, see Robert Parry, Lost History, or for a summary of the contra-drug evidence, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Gary Webb’s Death: American Tragedy.”]
Other cocaine smugglers soon followed, cozying up to the contras and sharing some of the profits, as a way to minimize investigative interest by the Reagan-Bush law enforcement agencies.
The contra-connected smugglers included the Medellin cartel, the Panamanian government of Manuel Noriega, the Honduran military, the Honduran-Mexican smuggling ring of Ramon Matta Ballesteros, and the Miami-based anti-Castro Cubans with their connections to Mafia operations throughout the United States.
The drug traffickers’ strategy also worked. In some cases, U.S. intelligence officials bent over backwards not to take timely notice of contra-connected drug trafficking out of fear that fuller investigations would embarrass the contras and their patrons in the Reagan-Bush administration.
For instance, on Oct. 22, 1982, a cable written by the CIA’s Directorate of Operations stated, “There are indications of links between [a U.S. religious organization] and two Nicaraguan counter-revolutionary groups. These links involve an exchange in [the United States] of narcotics for arms.”
The cable added that the participants were planning a meeting in Costa Rica for such a deal. When the cable arrived, senior CIA officials were concerned. On Oct. 27, CIA headquarters asked for more information from a U.S. law enforcement agency.
The law enforcement agency expanded on its report by telling the CIA that representatives of the contra FDN and another contra force, the UDN, would be meeting with several unidentified U.S. citizens. But then, the CIA reversed itself, deciding that it wanted no more information on the grounds that U.S. citizens were involved.
“In light of the apparent participation of U.S. persons throughout, agree you should not pursue the matter further,” CIA headquarters wrote on Nov. 3, 1982. Two weeks later, after discouraging additional investigation, CIA headquarters suggested it might be necessary to label the allegations of a guns-for-drugs deal as “misinformation.”
The CIA’s Latin American Division, however, responded on Nov. 18, 1982, that several contra officials had gone to San Francisco for the meetings with supporters, presumably as part of the same guns-for-drugs deal. But the CIA inspector general found no additional information about that deal in CIA files.
Also, by keeping the names censored when the documents were released in 1998, the CIA prevented outside investigators from examining whether the “U.S. religious organization” had any affiliation with Moon’s network of quasi-religious groups, which were assisting the contras at that time.
Over the past quarter century – as Moon invested in prominent Republicans – this pattern of government disinterest in his illicit operations remained one consistency.
That disinterest wasn’t even shaken when disenchanted Moon insiders went public with confessions of their own first-hand involvement in criminal conspiracies.
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.
In her 1998 memoir, In the Shadow of the Moons, Nansook Hong alleged that Moon’s organization had engaged in a long-running conspiracy to smuggle cash into the United States and to deceive U.S. Customs agents.
“The Unification Church was a cash operation,” Nansook Hong wrote. “I watched Japanese church leaders arrive at regular intervals at East Garden [the Moon compound north of New York City] with paper bags full of money, which the Reverend Moon would either pocket or distribute to the heads of various church-owned business enterprises at his breakfast table.
“The Japanese had no trouble bringing the cash into the United States; they would tell customs agents that they were in America to gamble at Atlantic City. In addition, many businesses run by the church were cash operations, including several Japanese restaurants in New York City. I saw deliveries of cash from church headquarters that went directly into the wall safe in Mrs. Moon’s closet.”
Mrs. Moon pressed her daughter-in-law into one cash-smuggling incident after a trip to Japan in 1992, Nansook Hong wrote.
Mrs. Moon had received “stacks of money” and divvied it up among her entourage for the return trip through Seattle, Nansook Hong wrote. “I was given $20,000 in two packs of crisp new bills,” she recalled. “I hid them beneath the tray in my makeup case. … I knew that smuggling was illegal, but I believed the followers of Sun Myung Moon answered to higher laws.”
U.S. currency laws require that cash amounts above $10,000 be declared at Customs when the money enters or leaves the country. It is also illegal to conspire with couriers to bring in lesser amounts when the total exceeds the $10,000 figure.
Nansook Hong 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.
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.”
While the criminal enterprises may have been operating at one level, Moon’s political influence-buying was functioning at another, as he spread around billions of dollars helpful to the top echelons of Washington power.
Moon 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.
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. [SeeOrangeCounty 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, Virginia, 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. [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 former President 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.”
In summer 1996, Bush was lending his prestige to Moon again. The former President 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.
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.
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.
Also in 1996, the Uruguayan bank employees union blew the whistle on one scheme in which some 4,200 female Japanese followers of Moon allegedly walked into the Moon-controlled Banco de Credito in Montevideo and deposited as much as $25,000 each.
The money from the women went into the account of an anonymous association called Cami II, which was controlled by Moon’s Unification Church. In one day, Cami II received $19 million and, by the time the parade of women ended, the total had swelled to about $80 million.
It was not clear where the money originated, nor how many other times Moon’s organization has used this tactic – sometimes known as “smurfing” – to transfer untraceable cash into Uruguay.
Authorities did not push the money-laundering investigation, apparently out of deference to Moon’s political influence and fear of disrupting Uruguay’s banking industry. However, other critics condemned Moon’s operations.
“The first thing we ought to do is clarify to the people [of Uruguay] that Moon’s sect is a type of modern pirate that came to the country to perform obscure money operations, such as money laundering,” said Jorge Zabalza, who was a leader of the Movimiento de Participacion Popular, part of Montevideo’s ruling left-of-center political coalition. “This sect is a kind of religious mob that is trying to get public support to pursue its business.”
Moon’s pattern of putting into Bush family causes has continued into George W. Bush’s presidency. In 2006, Moon again used money-laundering techniques to funnel a donation to the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library.
The Houston Chronicle reported that 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 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 earned the deepest gratitude of the Bush family and the Republican Party via his reported $3 billion investment in the Washington Times, a powerful propaganda organ that helped the GOP build its political dominance over the past quarter century.
George Archibald, who describes himself “as the first reporter hired at the Washington Times outside the founding group” and author of a commemorative book on the Times’ first two decades, recently joined a long line of disillusioned conservative writers who departed and warned the public about extremism within the newspaper.
In an Internet essay on bigotry and extremism inside the Times, Archibald also confirmed claims by some former Moon insiders that the cult leader has continued to pour in $100 million a year or more to keep the newspaper afloat. Archibald put the price tag for the newspaper’s first 24 years at “more than $3 billion of cash.”
Over those years, the Times has targeted American politicians of the center and left with journalistic attacks – sometimes questioning their sanity, as happened with Democratic presidential nominees Michael Dukakis and Al Gore. Those themes then resonate through the broader right-wing echo chamber and often into the mainstream media.
In 2000, the Washington Times was at the center of the assault on Al Gore’s candidacy – highlighting apocryphal quotes by Gore and using them to depict him as either dishonest or delusional. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Al Gore vs. the Media.”]
Aiming at Obama
The intervention by Moon’s media outlets into U.S. presidential politics continues to the present. In one of the first dirty tricks of Election 2008, Moon’s online magazine Insight tried to sabotage Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign before it even got started, while laying the blame at the feet of Democratic rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton.
The Insight article cited supposed opposition research by Hillary Clinton’s campaign that had allegedly dug up evidence that Obama had attended a fundamentalist Muslim “madrassah” while a young child and had sought to conceal his allegiance to Islam.
The Insight attack on Obama was framed as a heartfelt desire to test out the credibility of the 45-year-old Illinois senator who identifies himself as a Christian and belongs to a church in Chicago.
“He was a Muslim, but he concealed it,” a source supposedly close to Clinton’s background investigation of Obama told Insight. “The idea is to show Obama as deceptive.”
Insight used no named sources for the allegations, nor did the magazine check out the facts about the school. [Insight, Jan. 17, 2007]
After Moon’s online magazine published the “madrassa” story, it quickly spread to the wider audiences of Rupert Murdoch’s right-wing media outlets, Fox News and the New York Post, and then into the mainstream press. To further the subliminal link between Obama and Islamic terrorism, the New York Post ran its story under the headline “‘Osama’ Mud Flies at Obama.”
As the Obama-madrassa article circulated, Fox News made sure the story was put in the harshest possible light.
“Hillary Clinton reported to be already digging up the dirt on Barack Obama,” said John Gibson, anchor of Fox’s “The Big Story.” “The New York senator has reportedly outed Obama’s madrassah past. That’s right, the Clinton team reported to have pulled out all the stops to reveal something Obama would rather you didn’t know – that he was educated in a Muslim madrassah.”
For Obama’s part, he wrote in his autobiography that after he had attended a Catholic school for two years, his Indonesian stepfather sent him to a “predominantly Muslim school” in Jakarta when he was six. This inconsequential fact apparently became the basis for Insight’s suggestion that Obama was indoctrinated at a radical “madrassa.”
“The allegations are completely false,” Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs told the Washington Post. “To publish this sort of trash without any documentation is surprising, but for Fox to repeat something so false, not once, but many times is appallingly irresponsible.”
Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson termed the Insight article “an obvious right-wing hit job by a Moonie publication that was designed to attack Senator Clinton and Senator Obama at the same time.” [Washington Post, Jan. 22, 2007]
When CNN checked out the Insight article on Jan. 22, the story collapsed. The Indonesian school that Obama attended as a child turned out not to be some radical “madrassah” where an extreme form of Islam was taught, but a well-kept public school in an upper-middle-class neighborhood of Jakarta.
The boys and girls wear school uniforms and are taught a typical school curriculum today as they were 39 years ago when Obama was a student there, while living with his mother in Indonesia, reported CNN correspondent John Vause.
While most of the school’s students are Muslim – Indonesia is a Muslim country, after all – Vause reported that the religious views of other students are respected and that Christian children at the school are taught that Jesus is the son of God.
For once, a Moon-financed hit job on a political enemy appeared to backfire, although it’s hard to know whether planting a subliminal doubt about whether Obama is a secret agent of radical Islam will take root among some American voters who are paranoid about Muslim terrorists.
By citing Clinton operatives as the supposed source of the smear, Moon’s publication also played to the negative image of the New York senator as a ruthless politician who would sling mud at an opponent.
Whether the Obama/Clinton story has a long-term impact or not, it is a reminder of the value that Moon’s billions of mysterious dollars have purchased in the U.S. political process – and why his allies seem so determined to protect him from anything approaching aggressive law enforcement.
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.’