Key Figure in Euna Lee-Laura Ling Incident Hit With Sexual Assault Allegations
August 13, 2009
RIDGEFIELD PARK, N.J.—Two North Korean women refugees have alleged that a Seoul-based clergyman, famed for helping defectors flee the communist state, sexually assaulted them and used threats to keep them silent. The allegations first came to light back in May at a Flushing, NY press conference sponsored by a coalition of Korean American Christian organizations and a North Korean refugee aid group.
The two women, Shin Yuu-mi and Ma Yong-ae, told reporters Rev. Chun Ki-won, pastor and CEO of the Seoul-based Durihana, Inc., tried to rape them and used intimidation to prevent them from speaking out. The pair filed criminal sexual harassment complaints in June against Chun at the NYPD’s Queens-Flushing 109 Precinct and the Ridgefield Park Police Department in New Jersey, respectively. The New York edition of Joongahn Ilbo updated the story in its Aug. 10 edition.
Rev. Chun and his efforts to assist North Korean defectors were featured in the 2004 award-winning documentary Seoul Train by Colorado-based documentary filmmakers Jim Butterworth and Lisa Sleeth. In the February 2009 issue of National Geographic, Chun was the focus of Escape From North Korea by Tom O’Neill.
Current TV reporters Mitchell Koss, Euna Lee and Laura Ling consulted with Durihana’s Rev. Chun Ki-won in planning their ill-fated trip to the China-North Korea border March 17 that resulted in the arrests and imprisonment of Lee and Ling for 141 days in the DPRK capital. Chun has said he introduced the Current TV team to a guide Kim Seung-cheol, who reportedly accompanied the Americans onto North Korean soil on Mar. 17 but managed, along with Koss, to elude border guards.
Koss, Lee and Ling traveled to the region in early March to interview North Korean defectors for a story on the trafficking of refugee women into prostitution.
Shin, an emigre who fled North Korea via Rev. Chun’s circuitous “underground railroad,” alleged the pastor fondled and tried to rape her while visiting her Flushing apartment and that her brother, Joseph Shin, had to intervene. Ma’s husband, Choi Run-chul, reportedly stopped the clergyman from raping his wife in their Ridgefield Park home.
Rev. Chun agreed to appear for questioning in both jurisdictions in late July. He was represented by New York attorney Suk-jin Henry Cho.
“Rev. Chun has nothing to hide,” attorney Cho told Epicanthus.
Cho added Chun voluntarily traveled from South Korea for questioning after receiving e-mails from the NYPD and Ridgefield Park police departments. He was interrogated for two hours in connection with a crime report filed by Ma Young-ae by Ridgefield Park PD Detective Dan Hippe on July 22 and was not charged or held at that time.
The following day, Chun was questioned by Queens-Flushing Precinct 109 Det. Dominick Sartori.
“There isn’t a scintilla of evidence to support any of these charges,” said Cho, who added that Det. Sartori told him privately that “the case is closed.”
Meanwhile, Ma’s Ridgefield Park case apparently remains open, but police there are not commenting about whether they plan to press charges against Rev. Chun.
In Flushing, Shin maintains that the police translator confused her and said she has re-filed her complaint against Chun.
Neither Det. Hippe or Det. Sartori responded to interview requests.
An e-mail request for an interview with Rev. Chun was not answered.
Since news stories about the Ma and Shin allegations surfaced in the local Christian and Korean-language media, other North Korean émigrés have stepped forward to tell their stories about Rev. Chun.
Virginia resident Cho Yun-hee told reporters that Rev. Chun’s unwanted advances were the cause of discord within her family and eventually led to her divorce. She added that Chun asked to borrow her credit card to make a hotel reservation during a meeting at Washington, D.C.’s Dulles International Airport, but that he instead ran up large unauthorized charges on it and then refused to reimburse her.
Lee Oak-hee of New York said she spent two years in a Durihana-backed refugee shelter in Thailand and that Rev. Chun warned her that if she did not do exactly what he said to do, she would “never make it to the United States.” She did not elaborate.
An unidentified North Korean refugee told reporters a missionary who ran a Korean church in Bangkok warned a group of young women refugees to use birth control on the way to a reception for a visiting Rev. Chun.
Asked about her memories of Rev. Chun, another defector who spoke on the condition of anonymity: “He’s like a hyena who makes money off of North Korean refugees.”
According to the McLean, VA-headquartered U.S. branch of Durihana, Inc., Chun has helped more than 700 defectors flee North Korea since 1999.
An Oakland offshoot of the church, Durihana Marriage Counseling Service, is billed as a family values-oriented international matchmaking service.
- NKorean Refugee Women Say, `Chun Ki-won is Lying,’ Joongahn Ilbo (NY Edition)
- Durihana Pastor Chun Ki-won Charged With Sex Harassment, Kidok News
- Human Rights Activists Say Current TV Reporters Jeopardized Efforts to Help No. Korean Refugees, Epicanthus
- What Were Laura Ling and Euna Looking For in NKorea? Womens Media Center
- Durihana: Back to Jerusalem, website
- Durihana Marriage Counseling Center, website
- Seoul Train, website
- Escape From North Korea, National Geographic
(Theo Chung and Mudang2k contributed to the preparation of this story.)