The Dear Reader: DPRK Observations & Musings


Let’s Not Forget the Billionaire

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 LingLee 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 LingLee 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 LingLee 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.


Filed under: Euna Lee, Laura Ling, Somewhere Inside

4 Responses

  1. Jeremy says:

    Hotung didn’t get much coverage in the media, either.

    The two border guards have already said they just got lucky that morning, but if there really was a plot, they didn’t necessarily have to knowingly be in on it.

  2. Correct; it all flows through the guide, although if he was delivering Laura-Euna-Mitch Koss to North Korea, kind of strange that he would tell the border guards “Take me instead” after initial capture. (That is really selling it…)

    More likely possible scenario is that – per reports along China-NK border among activists prior to March, 2009 – North Korea was indeed on the lookout for the “prize” of a high-profile American prisoner(s) and Ling & co. just happened to show up at the wrong time. At best, maybe the guide just took it upon himself to draw them into NK territory, hoping to collect a future reward for his efforts.

    As mentioned here previously, I tried to arrange an interview with the Ling-Lee guide last December, via Durihana, after he had been released from Chinese captivity. Would still love to hear his side of the story.

    • Jeremy says:

      Yeah, I saw your update where you mentioned that the guide debriefed Durihana not long after being released from jail. Do you know if anything he said matched what Ling and Lee have said?

  3. The guide has remained completely off the media radar since being released by the Chinese last fall. Perhaps one day, we will hear something. But for now, no word.

    On Larry King tonight, Laura deflected the question as to whether or not the guard was a crook, answering that she does not know and does not like to speculate. That kind of deference may prompt Kim Seong-cheol to one day speak up.

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