The chaebol suicides

Samsung headquarters, Seoul

Another week, another stroll down memory lane. Chaebol memory lane, to be specific. In recent weeks we’ve been recounting the stories of various top-level executives of these massive South Korean conglomerates – men who, as is their wont, have ended up in hot water, and often in courtrooms (and, sometimes, at least briefly in prison cells) because of their corruption.

To be sure, chaebol leaders who get caught with their hands in the till don’t always end up arrested or imprisoned or pardoned. The South Korean shame culture leads some of them to take their lives. You might wonder why, if the shame culture is a powerful enough psychological phenomenon to drive these people to suicide, it doesn’t keep them from bribing and embezzling and so on in the first place. But that question is perhaps beyond the scope of this blog.

Chung Mong-hun

Here are a few examples of high-level South Korean self-slaughter. On August 4, 2003, Chung Mong-hun, the chairman of Hyundai and the son of its founder, jumped to his death from his 12th-floor office window. As the New York Times put it, Hyundai was South Korea’s “economic ambassador to the Communist North”; Chung had played a key role in arranging an historic summit in June 2000 between Kim Jong Il and South Korean president Kim Dae Jung. Afterward, however, South Korean auditors looked into the behind-the-scenes dealings relating to the summit and found that Chung had illegally paid a massive bribe to Pyongyang. He was about to be arrested for this crime when he chose to take the leap from his office window.

Roh Moo-hyun

On May 23, 2009, Roh Moo-hyun, who had served as president of South Korea from 2003 to 2008, killed himself by jumping off a cliff near his home. He had been under investigation for accepting $6 million in bribes from the business sector during his presidency. He had already been interrogated, and his wife was scheduled for questioning by investigators on the day of his death. He had already said that he “was losing face and that he was disappointing his supporters”; in a suicide note, he wrote: “nothing is left in my life but to be a burden to others….Don’t be too sad. Aren’t life and death both a piece of nature? Don’t be sorry. Don’t blame anyone. It is fate.”

Lee In-won


Two years ago it was Lee In-won’s turn. Lee, the #2 man at the Lotte Group, which at the time was South Korea’s fifth largest conglomerate, when he was
found dead in August 2016 beside a walking and cycling path near Seoul; he had hanged himself from a tree with his necktie. Lee, age 69, had spent 43 years at Lotte, where he was the highest ranking official not belonging to the conglomerate’s ruling Shin family. His suicide took place two months after police – tipped off about crooked deals among Lotte subsidiaries that led to the formation of a slush fund – raided the firm’s offices in search of evidence of those crooked deals. At the time of Lee’s suicide, he was scheduled to be grilled by prosecutors about these irregularities.

Lotte has less of an international profile than other major chaebols such as Samsung and Hyundai because its wealth is derived not from high-tech products exported around the world but primarily from apartment buildings, hotels, malls, cinemas, fast-food restaurants, and other such busineses in South Korea. It has about 80 subsidiaries and over 300,000 employees. The New York Times reported that Lee “was one of the professional executives commonly known in South Korea as vassals, for their loyalty to the families that control the business empires. These executives rarely betray their bosses during corruption investigations.”

Fronting for the DPRK: The Kaufman Music Center

The Ureuk Symphony Orchestra

Last October, we wrote about the Ureuk Symphony Orchestra, an ensemble that had performed before an enthusiastic crowd at the Kaufman Music Center, a major New York City concert venue, on September 22. Five days after the concert, the Wall Street Journal published a bombshell of an article which revealed that the event, billed as a “Peace Korea Concert,” had in fact been pure North Korean propaganda. In addition to standard items from the classical repertoire, the evening’s program had included North Korean works celebrating the Kim dynasty, praising Kim Jong-un, and calling for the absorption of South Korea into North Korea.

That’s Christopher Joonmoo Lee in the middle

Since the words were all in Korean, of course, many audience members didn’t really know what they were listening to. There were exceptions, though: among those in attendance were several North Korean diplomats, including Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho. The orchestra conductor, Christopher Joonmoo Lee, also understood every word. For, as it turned out, Lee, whose Korean name is Ri Jun Mu, isn’t just any musician: he’s a crony and operative of the Pyongyang regime. He spends a lot of time in North Korea and appears regularly on North Korean TV. As if all this weren’t explosive enough, the Journal pointed out that the orchestra had been performing at the Kaufman Music Center several times a year for over a decade – and in the city that may be the hub of the international news media, no reporter, apparently, had ever put it all together.

The Journal‘s revelations came as a surprise not only to most of the people who’d attended its September 22 concert but also to some of the musicians in the orchestra. The piece was, in fact, so devastating that we assumed – or, at least, hoped – that it would bring an end to this chapter in the history of North Korean propaganda. Nope! On February 4, an article in the New York Post brought the news that the Ureuk Symphony Orchestra was coming back to the Kaufman Music Center on that very day. This time around, the concert was entitled “February Spring” – a phrase used in North Korea to refer to Kim Jong-il’s birthday on February 16. The program, as always, would mix classical chestnuts with “North Korean cult songs praising the regime and its dictators, presented innocently as simply ‘Korean folk tunes,’ ‘music from a North Korean composer,’ etc.”

Lee surrounded by friends and fans

As the Post observed, what mattered here was not “that some unsuspecting Upper West Side 1-percenters are listening to militaristic songs,” but that “back in North Korea the concerts are touted as a triumph in the land of the ‘American bastards.’ It’s cultural warfare at its finest.” Indeed. The Post also added several details that were new to us. For one thing, the Ureuk concerts are underwritten by the Korean American National Coordinating Council, “a fanatically pro-Pyongyang front group once reportedly investigated by the US government for tax evasion and for serving as agents of North Korea.” For another, Lee, the orchestra conductor, is “a KANCC board member and a zealous supporter of the North Korean dictatorship.” He’s taken part in the “April Spring Friendship Art Festival,” an annual event in Pyongyang, and has written a poem celebrating the idea that North Korean nuclear bombs “could be the ‘death rattle’ of the ‘big-nosed’ Americans.” This from the man who wields the baton at “Peace Concerts”!

No, it’s no surprise that fanatical North Korean loyalists are doing their best to spread the Kim regime’s propaganda in the evil West. But why is the Kaufman Music Center providing them with a hall? Why didn’t the Wall Street Journal exposé put an end to this outrage once and for all? Why are people buying tickets to these things? Are Manhattanites that starved for classical music offerings?

Kim conquers New York

ureuk3
The Ureuk Symphony Orchestra on September 22

On September 22, the Merkin Concert Hall at New York’s Kaufman Music Center hosted a so-called “Peace Korea Concert” by an ensemble that calls itself the Ureuk Symphony Orchestra. The name of the event should have been a giveaway, but it came as a surprise to audience members – and, purportedly, to at least some of the musicians – when reporters for the Wall Street Journal informed them that at least three of the numbers on the evening’s program were paeans to the Kim dynasty in North Korea.

One of the works was Footsteps, “an inspirational ode to Kim Jong Un”; another celebrated the Kim dynasty; a third, according to the Journal‘s Jonathan Cheng and Timothy W. Murphy, “called for a unified Korea under the rule of Pyongyang.” (Immediately below is a video of the Ureuk group playing Footsteps; at the bottom of the page is a recording of the same tune, not by Ureuk, with subtitles translating the Korean lyrics into English.)

Informed of this fact, a cellist who’d played that evening acknowledged that the music had “seemed kind of militaristic.” A member of the audience recalled observing a group of “stern, well-dressed Korean men” in the audience. As it turned out, they were North Korean diplomats, led by Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho. The day after the concert, Ri gave an address to the U.N. General Assembly that consisted of the usual hostile rants about America. So much for “Peace Korea.”

So what’s the deal here? How did the Kaufman Music Center end up hosting a performance of North Korean propaganda music?

ureuk
Ureuk’s September 22 program

Well, it turns out that the conductor of the Ureuk Symphony Orchestra is one Christopher Joonmoo Lee, who is a member of that most bizarre subgroup of useful stooges – namely, the Western admirers of the barbaric, deranged Kim regime, which terrorizes and tortures its subjects willy-nilly and operates prison camps currently inhabited by approximately 200,ooo enemies of the state. (This in a country of about 25 million people.) Lee lives in Teaneck, New Jersey, but, according to the Journal, is “a frequent visitor to Pyongyang who appears regularly in North Korean media under his Korean name Ri Jun Mu.” Earlier in September, Lee took to Facebook to rejoice in the latest North Korean nuclear test: “It was a morning where the cheer for a unified Korea was exceptionally loud and clear!” he wrote.

jeung10While this warped creature’s orchestra has apparently escaped widespread notice up to now, it has in fact been performing at the Kaufman Center several times a year for over a decade. Its concerts routinely open with classical standards by composers like Mozart, Tchaikowsky, Dvorak, Verdi, and Vivaldi, then sneakily segue into Korean tunes eulogizing the Kims. (One of its concerts last February was a commemoration of Kim Jong Il’s birthday.) The main point of these performances, one gathers, isn’t to propagandize New York audiences, but to enable Kim’s state-run media to inform his subjects that American audiences have applauded musical programs exalting their wonderful system and their beloved dictator.

kim_hak_soo_175x175
Hak-Soo Kim

Several of Lee’s soloists – including violinist Khullip Jeung, soprano Yuri Park, and tenor Hak-Soo Kim – are Korean or Korean-American. The Journal didn’t quote any of them, and we haven’t been able to find any indication online of what their political views might be. But they clearly know what’s going on – they know exactly what they’re a part of. The vocalists certainly understand every word they sing in praise of the Great Leader, Dear Leader, and Sonny Boy. Somebody in the media should hunt these artists down and ask them – just for starters – how they manage to sleep at night. 

gillogly4It appears, though, that most of the instrumentalists on Lee’s payroll are Americans who don’t know any Korean. While at least one or two of them were reportedly surprised when the Journal reporters explained to them what the Korean songs were about (unlikely though that may seem), others admitted to knowing full well that they were participating in a public-relations effort on behalf of the world’s most abominable totalitarian state.

But, hey, a gig is a gig! The show must go on! That’s entertainment! Adorable violinist Samantha Gillogly denied having the slightest concern about the repulsive lyrics to the Korean songs: “The art on its own does not hurt anyone,” she told the Journal.

Perhaps not. Or perhaps every insidious effort to normalize the truly evil North Korean regime in the West is a dangerous step in the wrong direction, and anyone who contributes to that effort needs to examine his or her conscience.

Ted Turner: pimping for Pyongyang

tedturner2
Ted Turner

Ted Turner: founder of CNN, ex-husband of Jane Fonda, billionaire. Yesterday we looked at his hypocrisy about the environment (28 homes, a “Save the Planet” bumper sticker on his car) and about population growth (father of five kids, supporter of a proposal for an an internationally enforced one-child law). But now for the most sordid part of all – his lamentable tendency to defend totalitarians.

KimJong-il_1444913c
The late Kim Jong-Il

Case in point: in 2005 Turner visited North Korea, and after returning to the U.S. shared his experiences and conclusions in a stunning interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. Describing himself as having “had a great time,” Turner said, apropos of a new arms deal: “I am absolutely convinced that the North Koreans are absolutely sincere. There’s really no reason – no reason for them to cheat.” When Blitzer pointed out that North Korea had violated similar deals before, Turner said: “I mean, you know, just because somebody’s done something wrong in the past doesn’t mean they can’t do right in the future or in the present.”

tedturner3
The king in his kingdom

The transcript continues – but, before quoting it, let us just interject that we’ll be reproducing excerpts from this and one or two other interview transcripts at some length. Why? Because Ted Turner, for all his power and wealth and purported business savvy, has a special gift, in such conversations, of revealing just how staggeringly uninformed and unreflective he is on the subject of dictatorship. It’s as if he just can’t grasp the idea that foreign leaders who are chummy with him at a dinner table could possibly be guilty of doing anything terrible to anyone else. Anyway, back to his exchange with Blitzer:

crowd-weeping_2090186i
Mass “mourning” upon the death of Kim Jong-Il

BLITZER: But this is one of the most despotic regimes and Kim Jong Il is one of the worst men on Earth. Isn’t that a fair assessment?

TURNER: Well, I didn’t get, I didn’t get to meet him, but he didn’t look, in the pictures that I’ve seen of him on CNN, he didn’t look too much different than most other people.

BLITZER: But look at the way, look at the way he’s, look at the way he’s treating his own people.

DMZ-Korea
The DMZ

TURNER: Well, hey, listen. I saw a lot of people over there. They were thin and they were riding bicycles instead of driving in cars, but ah –

BLITZER: Lot of those people are starving.

TURNER: I didn’t see, I didn’t see any, I didn’t see any brutality in the capital or out in the, on the DMZ….I think they want to join the western world and improve the quality of life for their people just like everybody else. And I think that we should give them another chance. It doesn’t cost us anything. We already have agreements. And North Korea never posed any significant threat to the United States. I mean, the whole economy of North Korea’s only $30 billion a year. It’s less than the city of Detroit. It’s a small place, and we do not have to worry about them attacking us.

ted_turner_pointingBLITZER: You know, they have a million troops within literally a few miles.

TURNER: A half million.

BLITZER: Well, best estimates are a million. A million troops along the DMZ.

TURNER: We have a half a million troops, of which 28,000 are Americans and they’ve been there for 50 years. One of the things I said in both North and South Korea is it’s time to end the Korean War officially and move on. And get those hundreds of thousands of young men that are sitting there back building hospitals and roads and schools in North and South Korea and improving the gross national product. It’s just a waste of time and energy for them to sit there.

turnernk
Okay, this is photoshopped. In reality Turner hasn’t yet won the Gold Star identifying him as a Hero of the Democratic Repubic of North Korea. Yet.

BLITZER: I think the bottom line, though, Ted, and I think you’d agree, they had this opportunity in the ’90s, when they signed this first agreement and they cheated. They didn’t live up to it. Now they have a second chance. I hope you’re right. I certainly do.

TURNER: Well I hope I’m right, too. But you know it’s, in the Bible says you’re supposed to forgive seven times seventy, or something like that….Let’s give ’em a break. Give ’em a break. And besides, even if they do – even if they do threaten us again, the threat is non-existent to the United States. They can’t threaten us. I mean, it’s like a [flea] attacking an elephant.

Well, there it is. Yes, this is the all-powerful Ted Turner speaking. Pick your jaw back up off the floor. And come back tomorrow. There’s more where this came from.