Politics

The Clintons’ Troubled, Disappearing South Korean Donor

Chuck Ross Investigative Reporter

A South Korean chemical and explosives conglomerate that donated to the Clinton Foundation was once listed on the charity’s website, then it wasn’t, and now it is again.

The on-again, off-again donor status of Hanwha Group highlights a major disclosure problem that has plagued that Clintons’ family charity. And the inconsistencies — which involve millions of dollars in donations and speech income — are causing a headache for Hillary Clinton as she mounts her 2016 presidential run.

While the Clintons maintain that their foundation has taken unprecedented steps at disclosing its relationships with donors, the reporting gaps allow Clinton opponents to question whether the non-disclosures are intended to hide embarrassing relationships. Such could be the case with Hanwha, whose CEO, Kim Seung-youn, has a checkered criminal history. The secrecy accusation could extend to Kim’s support for a U.S.-South Korea trade pact which Hillary opposed as a senator but supported when she became secretary of state.

When the Clinton Foundation released a list of its donors on its website in Dec. 2008, three Hanwha subsidiaries were included. Hanwha Stores Ltd., Hanwha L&C Corp. and Hanwha Engineering and Construction gave a total of between $600,000 and $1.25 million to the foundation, according to the release.

But sometime between 2008 and the present, Hanwha was removed from the list. When the company reappeared on a list that the foundation released on Thursday, it was included with companies, universities and foreign entities that paid the Clinton Foundation between $500,000 and $1,000,000 for speeches given by Bill.

Since 2002, Bill, Hillary and Chelsea have given a combined total of 97 speeches which brought the family foundation between $12 million and $26 million. That is in addition to the more than $130 million the family has earned in personal income from speeches since leaving the White House in 2001. (RELATED: Revealed: Clintons Made As Much As $26 Million For Foundation From Speeches)

While the Clinton Foundation released the donor list in 2008 as part of the conditions for Hillary taking the secretary of state job, the charity claims it did not disclose speeches the family gave on its behalf because they were considered revenue and not donations.

It is unclear whether Hanwha was taken off of the original disclosure list for this very reason. The Clinton Foundation did not respond to a request for comment or clarification.

The Clintons’ first reported contact with Hanwha was in 2003.

Records show that in Jan. 2003, Kim gave then-Sen. Clinton a handbag from the Korean designer Geon Man Lee. She accepted the gift, according to a disclosure, but turned it over to the secretary of the Senate.

In Nov. 2003 Bill appeared with Kim at the grand opening for a Hanwha subsidiary, Korea Life Insurance Co. After that appearance, he traveled to Seoul to golf with Kim.

Bill came back into contact with the company in Sept. 2012 when he gave the keynote speech at the Solar Power International conference co-sponsored by Hanwha Solar in Orlando, Fla.

Kim was not at the event, likely because he had been convicted the month before for embezzling more than $260 million and was serving a four-year prison sentence. He was pardoned in Feb. 2014.

Kim, now 62, had been at the center of several legal battles before that, highlighting another common Clinton theme: many of the businessmen and companies in their orbit have engaged in shady business activities.

According to a 2006 article from The Washington Post, Hanwha funded a non-profit group called the Korea-U.S. Exchange Council which had a goal of enhancing “the influence of Hanwha’s chairman, Seung Youn Kim.”

Kim was described in the Post article as a “controversial figure” who was once jailed for violating Korean financial law related to a U.S. real estate deal. His company was also the target of an FBI inquiry after it was revealed it paid for junkets for 12 members of Congress and 31 staffers totaling more than $500,000.

He has also had personal legal problems. In 2007, he was arrested after he used a metal pipe to beat a karoke bar waiter who had assaulted his son.

Being the CEO of a major South Korean company, Kim was an ardent supporter of a U.S.-South Korea trade agreement. Though both countries agreed to the pact in June 2007, it met opposition from U.S. politicians, including Clinton, who had just announced her presidential candidacy.

As NPR noted in an article last month, at a meeting of the AFL-CIO in 2007, Clinton called the South Korea trade deal “inherently unfair.”

“It will hurt the U.S. auto industry, increase our trade deficit, cost us good middle-class jobs and make America less competitive,” Clinton said then.

But four years later at an event she attended as secretary of state in Seoul, South Korea, Clinton said that securing the trade deal was “priority for me, for President Obama and for the entire administration. We are determined to get it done, and I believe we will.”

The agreement finally overcame its hurdles and went into full effect in March. 2012.

During a June 2012, House committee hearing on foreign affairs hearing on the U.S.-Korean alliance, Kim was cited by name as having visited the U.S. to promote the trade pact.

“Also want to express my appreciation for Chairman Kim Seung-youn of the Hanwha Group who personally made the time to visit Washington and rally support for passage of the U.S.-Korean Free Trade Agreement,” said Eni Faleomavaega, who was then a non-voting delegate to the House from the American Samoa.

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