Right-wing groups received funding for pro-government demonstrations

Posted on : 2016-04-21 16:33 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
North Korean defectors were paid around $18 to take part in rallies opposing the Sewol victims’ families
 opposing the Sewol victims’ families who were demonstrating nearby
opposing the Sewol victims’ families who were demonstrating nearby

Far-right and conservative-leaning groups have organized pro-government demonstrations in which they mobilized North Korean defector groups, drawing upon funding and support from the Federation of Korean Industries (FKI) and the Korean National Police Veterans Association, reports show.

Decrying this as “clear political meddling that shakes the foundation of democracy,” the Minjoo Party of Korea and other opposition parties have promised to launch a parliamentary probe to determine what forces, if any, were behind this funding.

“I can’t say that we didn’t receive 120 million won (US$105,700) [from the Federation of Korean Industries]. But considering that we have two or three hundred people in our group, in all honesty 120 million won is little more than a holiday gift,” said Lee Jong-moon, vice president of the Korea Parent Federation, during an interview with a Hankyoreh reporter on Apr. 20.

Lee said that the Korea Parent Federation had used this money to hand out coats worth 88,000 won to members or to provide them with meals. This constitutes an admission that the Korea Parent Federation received money from the FKI.

The Korean Parent Federation, which is one of the best-known right-wing groups, has claimed on several occasions that its entirely monthly income amounts to 3.5 million won submitted in dues from its 200 or so members and about 1 million won earned by collecting scrap paper and empty bottles.

According to a Wednesday report by JTBC, the FKI, a lobby group for large corporations, remitted 120 million won on three occasions between September and December of 2014 to the bank account of a Christian missionary foundation. The foundation, however, had shut down several years prior.

The account is presumed to be a “borrowed-name account” of Chu Seon-hui, secretary general of the Korean Parent Federation, and indeed it was found that 17.5 million won had been sent from this account to Chu on four occasions.

In addition, seven transfers of 29 million won were made to an individual surnamed Kim who is the head of a North Korean defector group. Kim is thought to be the person who gave North Korean defectors 20,000 won (about US$18) each to join protests against the Sewol ferry organized by the Korean Parent Federation.

It was also confirmed that money from this account was remitted to another conservative organization called the Movement to Love the Nation and to reporters for conservative online news websites.

Members of right-wing groups hold a press conference outside Cheongwoon Hyojadong Community Service Center near the Blue House in Seoul
Members of right-wing groups hold a press conference outside Cheongwoon Hyojadong Community Service Center near the Blue House in Seoul


Inhumane demonstration against Sewol families’ hunger strike

The demonstrations organized by the Korean Parent Federation were mostly designed to isolate the Sewol victims’ families, who were demanding a thorough investigation into the sinking of the ferry. Demonstrators attacked the victims’ families for being rabble-rousers; criticized the hunger strike of Kim Yeong-oh, father of a girl named Yu-min who died in the accident; and even gorged themselves on fried chicken in front of the fasting victims‘ families.

The demonstrations occurred around the time of a fierce struggle between the ruling and opposition parties over President Park Geun-hye’s role in the Sewol tragedy and in the enactment of the Special Sewol Law. This was around the time that conservative newspapers frequently referred to how “Gwanghwamun Square had been split in two.”

The groups participating in the demonstrations organized by the Korean Parent Federation were for the most part defector groups like the NK Refugees Human Rights Association of Korea and the Defector Parents Federation and conservative and right-wing groups like the One People Youth Alliance and the Moms Brigade.


Retired police officers also sponsor right-wing groups

Previously, it turned out that the Korean National Police Veterans Association, which is an organization for retired police officers, had remitted 5 million won to the NK Refugees Human Rights Association of Korea in Dec. 2014. The association also accidentally sent 5 million won and 7 million won to the same organization in Mar. 2015.

“The money that was supposed to go to the Defectors Parents Federation to pay the people who participated in the demonstration went to us by mistake,” Kim Yong-hwa, head of the NK Refugees Human Rights Association of Korea, said in an interview.

This effectively serves as evidence that the FKI and the Korean National Police Veterans Association are bankrolling state-sponsored demonstrations.

2014 was the year when far-right and conservative organizations including the Korean Parents Federation were starting to gain influence.

In December of that year, the Korean Parents Federation joined with other conservative and defector groups - including the Committee for the Democratization of North Korea, the NK Refugees Human Rights Association of Korea, the Defectors Parents Federation and the One People Youth Alliance to launch the Inter-Korean Conservative Coalition. The coalition was established with the goals of defending South Korea‘s system of liberal democracy and wiping out forces sympathetic to the regime in Pyongyang.

During the event, held on Dec. 26, congratulatory addresses were given by Kim Moon-su, former chair of the Saenuri Party’s special committee for conservative innovation, and Saenuri Party lawmaker Han Gi-ho, while Gu Ja-tae, chair of the Korean National Police Veterans Association, attended as a guest of honor.


NIS rumored to be behind funding and demonstrations

A rumor had long been circulating among defectors that the National Intelligence Service (NIS) or the Blue House was behind the Korean Parents Federation. The Hankyoreh also published what was presumed to be an NIS report that argued that private interest groups including the FKI, the Korean Parents Federation and advocacy groups for students‘ parents should be used to turn public opinion against Seoul mayor Park Won-soon in order to curb his influence.

While the Korean Parents Federation denied any connection with the NIS at the time, it held a press conference decrying allegations that fertilizer had been found in school lunches in front of Seoul City Hall on May 28, right before the municipal elections on June 4. After that, the group continued to hold regular protests about charges that Park’s son had been illegally exempted from his military service.

“We will have to get to the bottom of whether the Federation of Korean Industries and the Korean National Police Veterans Association provided these illegal funds on their own or whether there was some government connection behind this,” said Lee Jae-gyeong, spokesperson for the Minjoo Party of Korea, said on Wednesday.

“If there was someone behind it, we should figure out who it was, and we also need to make public the full truth about why and how these payments were made,” said Kim Jeong-yeon, spokesperson for the People‘s Party.

On Apr. 21, the Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice is planning to ask the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office to investigate whether the FKI provided illegal funds.

Following a strategy meeting held on the morning of Apr. 20, FKI told reporters that “our official position is that we cannot confirm the charges about providing funds to the Korean Parent Federation.”

This suggests a shift in attitude, considering that FKI told reporters asking for confirmation of the JTBC report the previous night that “We are currently determining whether there is a connection between the funding and the Korean Parents Federation. As soon as we confirm this information, we will announce our position.”


FKI admits to funding demonstrations[%%IMAGE4%%]

When reporters asked whether this constituted a de facto acknowledgment of the allegations, FKI did not make any response.

Off the record, the FKI admitted that it had provided funding to the missionary group in question.

“It’s true that funding was given to the missionary group, but I‘m not sure whether or not that money went to the Korean Parents Federation and defector groups,” said one FKI executive who spoke on condition of anonymity.

FKI Chairman Huh Chang-soo said that he knew nothing about the money given to the Korean Parents Federation.

“We have confirmed that the FKI secretariat did not provide a preliminary report about the funding,” said a source at the GS Group, which is led by Huh.

This would imply that the payments made by the FKI were independently ordered by Lee Seung-cheol, the federation’s full-time vice chairman.

Sources in the business world are raising the possibility that the FKI did not only provide monetary support to the Korean Parent Federation and to defector groups but that it directly planned demonstrations calling for the enactment of an economic stimulus package and gave these groups wages for protestors in the demonstrations.

The Hankyoreh also broke the news that the FKI has provided hundreds of millions of won each year to the Center for Free Enterprise, which took the lead last year in promoting the government’s move to monopolize authorship of Korean history textbooks.

Over the past few years, the FKI has already been facing a severe crisis, with meetings by a group of chairpersons failing to fulfill their role. The federation has also become stigmatized as a group that only represents the interests of the chaebol. This scandal is expected to make the federation’s problems even worse.

“Political neutrality is important for economic groups such as the Federation of Korean Industries,” said an executive at one economic organization. “It‘s inconceivable that the federation would provide large amounts of money to ideologically biased conservative groups such as the Korean Parent Federation, since this just brings on controversy about political meddling.”

By Ko Han-sol, Lee Seung-joon, Lee Jae-wook, staff reporters and Kwak Jung-soo, business correspondent

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]


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