Kim at bay in S Korean slush-fund scandal



Seoul - President Kim Young Sam was prepared last night for a showdown with opposition leaders who threaten to turn a slush-fund scandal into a weapon against his presidency.

Mr Kim is due to meet leaders of his own governing Democratic Liberal Party and heads of opposition groups today, ostensibly to "exchange views" on his visit last week to the United States and Canada. But a party official said the talks also would touch on the political slush-fund furore that has confronted the President with his biggest crisis in office.

Last week Mr Kim's close ally, former president Roh Tae Woo, dealt him a big blow by tearfully admitting that he had taken pounds 415m from business conglomerates while in office.

Kim Dae Jung, leader of the main opposition National Congress for New Politics, said in Peking that he took several million dollars from Mr Roh, and accused the President of accepting hundreds of millions. Kim Dae Jung alleged the money was used to help finance the Kims' 1992 presidential campaigns, which Kim Young Sam won.

The Yonhap news agency said that Kim Dae Jung had urged the President to come clean on whether he took money from Mr Roh, and if so, how much, and what he intended to do to resolve the crisis.

Kim Young Sam has consistently pushed for an inquiry into the scandal, which analysts say could sink his governing party in a general election in April. He took office in 1993 on a "Mr Clean" image, and promised to banish corruption inherited from decades of military-backed rule. Mr Kim's attachment to Mr Roh is now an embarrassment.

Already the public is sceptical of his will to expunge political graft, and earlier this year his party was routed in local elections.

In a move set to send shivers through financial markets, state television reported that prosecutors digging into the source of Mr Roh's vast wealth had drawn up a list of 100 business executives they wish to talk to, and some of the nation's biggest corporate moguls would be summoned for questioning.