One name that is conspicuously absent from the final chapters of Laura Ling and Lisa Ling‘s excellent new book Somewhere Inside: One Sister’s Captivity in North Korea and the Other’s Fight to Bring Her Home, pseudonymously or otherwise, is that of octogenarian Hong Kong billionaire Eric Hotung. And yet, without his behind-the-scenes maneuvering, it is possible that the Bill Clinton happy ending would never have occurred.
Last December, Hotung (an honorary citizen of North Korea since 2000) explained to Eastweek magazine how a mysterious meeting in Beijing around the time of the Ling–Lee trial brought him in contact with a North Korean general, a female colleague and a message that the reclusive country wanted his help to defuse the international situation. Intriguingly, Hotung also shares a hunch he had at the time that the whole Ling–Lee capture may have been some sort of set-up rather than a random, unlucky March 17th event.
Once described by Clinton aides as “fabulously wealthy but a bit off the wall,” Hotung got in touch after the meeting with a Bill aide and within 48 hours, was relaying back to his new, brokered North Korean Beijing contacts the good news: his friend Bill was in. For his efforts, Hotung is reported to have been made a senior adviser of the Korea International Chamber of Commerce.
At least one Chinese tabloid took the Hotung story a step further, hinting that he may have thrown in a briefcase full of money to seal the Ling–Lee release (via follower @tammoto, a couple of images of said article are here and here).
A secret stash of cash is unlikely, but beyond the spheres outlined by Lisa Ling and Laura Ling in Somewhere Inside, the Hong Kong billionaire philanthropist with a home in Virginia deserves arguably as much praise or credit as the State Department, Al Gore and the rest, for getting the Bill Clinton ball rolling and then allowing Laura‘s captors, Lisa and the White House to run with it.