BAGHDAD, Iraq – South Korea will investigate its handling of the kidnapping case of Kim Sun-il (search), a South Korean worker beheaded by Islamic militants earlier this week, officials said.
The government is looking into the role of Kim's employer in reporting the disappearance and a controversy surrounding a videotape that Associated Press Television News received before it was widely known that Kim was missing. South Korea has said it was unaware of his kidnapping until a videotape appeared Sunday.
The Board of Audit and Inspection will investigate a "dispute" between the Foreign Ministry and The Associated Press over an AP statement that one of the agency's reporters asked the ministry about the missing South Korean in early June, Presidential spokesman Yoon Tae-young said.
President Roh Moo-hyun (search) ordered the investigation Thursday.
"The investigation will try to find out factual truth in the dispute between the Foreign Ministry and a foreign media organization on the question of whether the media organization asked questions based on the videotape acquired shortly after Kim's kidnapping," Yoon said.
Kim, 33, was killed by militants after South Korea refused the kidnappers' demand to stop a troop dispatch to Iraq and his body was found near Baghdad on Tuesday.
One issue in the wake of his death is what role Kim's employer had in reporting the disappearance.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Shin Bong-kil said Kim's employer, Kim Chun-ho of Cana General Trading Co., a supplier to the U.S. military, visited the South Korean embassy in Iraq four times -- on June 1, 7, 10 and 16. South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted Shin as saying Kim Chun-ho never discussed the kidnapping and that his visits were all for business consultations.
Kim's employer has since said Kim disappeared around May 31, nearly three weeks earlier than the June 17 date he had previously given authorities.
Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said his ministry was investigating an AP statement that said an AP reporter in Seoul asked a ministry official on June 3 whether a South Korean citizen with a name that sounded like Kim Sun-il was missing in Iraq.
"An official in the ministry said the ministry was not aware that any South Korean of that name -- or any other South Korean citizen -- was missing or in captivity," Jack Stokes, AP's media relations manager, said in a statement from AP headquarters in New York.
"So far we haven't confirmed whether such a phone call was received from the AP," Ban told lawmakers at the National Assembly.
"It is a very grave issue. The AP has the obligation to make a detailed revelation on it," Ban said. "We are very ashamed, but it is true that the government was not aware of the hostage situation for 20 days."
The South Korean government has said it did not know about Kim's kidnapping until another tape that showed Kim begging for his life appeared on the pan-Arab Al-Jazeera network on Sunday.
Maeng Hyung-kyu, a lawmaker with the opposition Grand National Party, accused the Foreign Ministry of failing to follow up on the AP inquiry.
The investigation ordered by Roh will also study confusion in the government's efforts to establish facts surrounding Kim Sun-il's kidnapping and efforts by Kim's company to negotiate his release.
An unidentified courier delivered the tape to APTN's office in Baghdad in early June. It was not accompanied by a statement or an explanation, and nothing said on the tape states that Kim was a hostage.
APTN did not broadcast the videotape because it was unclear if Kim, who discusses the U.S. role in Iraq and gives personal information on the tape, was being held against his will.
On the tape, Kim is seated before a bare beige wall. A voice off camera asks him questions, and he replies in halting English. He says he came to Iraq about six months ago and that he wanted to study Arabic. Kim also says "I like Iraqi people" and describes President Bush as a "terrorist," adding that the United States is "killing the Iraqi people."