Seoul, South Korea President Kim Dae-jung said Friday his government was aware of illegal payments to North Korea ahead of a historic 2000 summit but allowed the money to go through in the interest of peace on the peninsula.
Kim, who leaves office on Feb. 25, also apologized for the scandal, which has embarrassed his government in its final days and intensified criticism of his "sunshine" policy of engaging North Korea -- a diplomatic overture that helped him win the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize.
"I am really sorry for causing deep concern to the Korean people owing to the controversy," Kim said in a televised speech. "As a person, I feel miserable and my heart is aching."
Kim denied that he or his government made any of the payments.
The Hyundai business group has admitted giving North Korea $186 million shortly before the summit but claims the money was part of its business deals in North Korea that include tourism, railways and an industrial park. The money was borrowed from a South Korean state-run bank.
Lim Dong-won, the government intelligence chief at the time of the summit and now Kim's national security and unification adviser, said on the same broadcast he received a request from Hyundai in June 2000 for assistance in the payment to North Korea.
He said Hyundai made the payment to North Korea on June 9, 2000, with the help of the National Intelligence Service. But Lim said the deal was not reported to "higher levels," without elaborating. The summit was June 13-15 in Pyongyang.
"At the time, we judged that the projects, when realized, would contribute to economic benefits and easing tension on the Korean Peninsula," Lim said.
Opposition lawmakers claim the money was given to the communist North -- possibly from South Korea's government -- as "payment" for the talks, Kim's crowning feat.