A South Korean businessman accused of accepting millions of dollars to act as an unregistered agent of Iraq in the United Nations Oil-for-Food program will be tried separately from a group of oilmen also charged in the case, a judge said Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Denny Chin granted a request by defense lawyers and prosecutors that Tongsun Park, who is 70 and in failing health, be tried before the other defendants in part because he already is incarcerated and the other defendants are not.
During a hearing, lawyers indicated it was likely that Park would face trial this summer while the others will be tried beginning Nov. 13. Park is being held because the court deemed him a risk to flee.
Park has been accused of acting illegally when he worked as a U.N. lobbyist for Saddam Hussein's government in the early 1990s. He has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government and money laundering. The oilmen are charged with conspiracy.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Miller said the government would take about two weeks to present its case against Park, who was indicted in April.
Park remained a fugitive until he was detained as he passed through Mexico on Jan. 6. The FBI and Mexican authorities accompanied him on a plane to Houston, where he was arrested.
If convicted, he could face more than 12 years in prison.
In the mid-1970s, Park was a key figure in a scandal known as Koreagate, in which agents of the Korean government were accused of trying to buy influence in the U.S. Congress. Park was indicted in that case, but the charges later were dropped.
Park lawyer Jamie Gardner said her client has severe health problems including diabetes, high blood pressure and the difficulties of coping with a kidney transplant.
The judge set the next hearing in the case for March 28.