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Late businessman allegedly influenced Sri Lanka for UN Chief’s election: associates

April 17, 2015
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (AP Photo)

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (AP Photo)

By Jun Ji-hye

Deceased Keangnam Enterprises Chairman Sung Woan-jong claimed that he contributed considerably to the election of Ban Ki-moon as United Nations secretary general, Sung’s associates were quoted as saying by a South Korean newspaper.

Sung claimed that he had close ties with then-Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa, whom he urged to persuade his country’s candidate, Jayantha Dhanapala, to withdraw his candidacy and support Ban in the 2006 election for the post.

During the initial stage of the election, former Thailand Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai and India’s Shashi Tharoor, who served as U.N. under secretary general, were cited as favorites.

After the U.N. Security Council conducted three straw votes but failed to choose a winner, Sri Lanka’s Dhanapala withdrew his candidacy, declaring his support for Ban, at the end of September.

Following the Sri Lankan candidate’s resignation, Ban moved to the top with 14 “yes” votes and one abstention from the 15 member states during the fourth straw poll on Oct. 2.

The General Assembly elected Ban on Oct. 13.

“My personal ties with the Sri Lanka President did the job,” Sung was quoted as telling his associates, according to the Dong-A Ilbo. “I told the President to support Ban as Dhanapala seemed to have a slim chance of being elected.”

The newspaper added that Ban expressed his gratitude to Sung for his help.

Sung’s construction firm moved into Sri Lanka in 1978, engaging in housing and other infrastructure projects.

Sung was found dead on April 9 in an apparent suicide amid the prosecution’s investigation into allegations of fraud and a slush fund involving the failed “energy diplomacy” conducted under the administration of former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

The controversy has also impacted the U.N. chief as Sung professed a special connection with Ban during a Kyunghyang Shinmun interview conducted right before his death.

Sung has been wielding influence in the political sector since he founded the Chungcheong Forum in 2000 with a network of politicians, public officials and journalists from the Chungcheong region. The forum has some 3,500 members.

Ban, Lee and Sung all hail from the region. Sung claimed his support for Ban as the next presidential runner would have made Lee unhappy. Lee denied that he harbored any resentment toward Ban and Sung.

Ban also denied the allegations that he and Sung had special ties.

“The ongoing case is not related to me. I saw Sung several times on official occasions such as the gathering of the Chungcheong Forum, but I don’t have personal ties with him,” he told reporters. “I have made clear that I have no interest in domestic politics.”

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