From the Archive: The death of Rev. Sun Myung Moon at 92 ends the long personal saga of a Korean theocrat whose life intertwined his bizarre religion with threads into organized crime and right-wing politics. Moon also showed how a fortune spent on media could change Washington’s political dynamic, as Robert Parry wrote in 2010.
By Robert Parry (Published on May 1, 2010)
As an investigative journalist, I’m not much for catchy political metaphors, but the revelation that snakes and rodents are infesting the Washington Times building as the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s newspaper sinks into a financial swamp does have some poetic justice about it.
After all, for several decades, the right-wing Washington Times has sent disinformation slithering through the U.S. political system while creating a nest for propagandists who have befouled American democracy with irrationality and dirty tricks. Indeed, one could say that Moon’s newspaper pioneered the modern style of deceptive “journalism” that is the daily fare on Fox News, angry talk radio and right-wing blogs.
The immediate cause of the Washington Times’ financial plight was the bitter succession fight among children of the aging Unification Church founder who was no longer capable of maintaining personal control over his global religious-political-business empire.
That empire had split into competing factions, with one of Moon’s children, Justin Moon, who was in charge of the Asian operations, deciding to slash the church’s massive subsidy to the Washington Times headed by another son, Preston Moon. Staffers who have survived a series of draconian layoffs reported that snakes and mice had slipped into the newspaper’s building because the owners couldn’t afford exterminators to combat the infestations.
“There was a three-foot-long black snake in the main conference room the other day,” said reporter Julia Duin. “We have snakes in the newsroom.”
A Curious Case
It has long been amazing that Official Washington has been so blasé about the curious case of the Washington Times, where a Korean theocrat – known for brainwashing his followers and for maintaining close ties with international drug cartels and foreign intelligence agencies – has been allowed to spend billions of unregulated dollars to influence U.S. political decision-making.
The fact that Moon wrapped himself in “conservative” political garb – and was quick to denounce any investigations of his organization as “religious bigotry” – helped fend off inquiries into exactly where his money was coming from.
But what proved most important was how Moon made himself useful to Ronald Reagan, the Bush Family and other Republican heavy-hitters – often by putting into play propaganda smearing their political enemies. These Republicans, in turn, helped protect Moon, at least since the late 1970s.
During the Carter administration, the congressional “Korea-gate” probe into South Korean influence-buying in Washington revealed Moon’s foreign intelligence ties and some of his criminal activities, leading to his conviction on tax fraud charges in 1982.
In that same year, however, Moon took steps to insulate himself from further inquiries, most notably by launching the Washington Times. Since then, Moon’s empire – from its local fundraising scams to its international money-laundering – has escaped any serious government examination.
It didn’t even matter when Church insiders, including Moon’s former daughter-in-law Nansook Hong, provided first-hand evidence of systematic criminality. In an era dominated by Republican control of the federal government, U.S. authorities never seemed to put two and two together.
Though Moon’s operations in both Asia and South America were linked to major crime syndicates including the Japanese yakuza and Latin American cocaine cartels, federal prosecutors and congressional committees chose to look the other way.
That way Moon was allowed to continue pouring an estimated $100 million a year into his newspaper and other pro-Republican media outlets. Additional millions went to fund right-wing political conferences; to pay speaking fees to world leaders, including George H.W. Bush; and to bail Republican political allies out of financial troubles.
When I was investigating Moon’s activities in the mid-1990s, I interviewed former church insiders who explained how Moon’s U.S. business operations, such as restaurants and real estate deals, served to launder overseas money that his followers would first sneak past U.S. Customs, a practice confirmed by Moon’s ex-daughter-in-law.
In her 1998 memoir, In the Shadow of the Moons, Nansook Hong alleged that Moon’s organization had engaged in a long-running conspiracy to smuggle cash into the United States and to deceive U.S. Customs agents.
“The Unification Church was a cash operation,” Nansook Hong wrote. “I watched Japanese church leaders arrive at regular intervals at East Garden [the Moon compound north of New York City] with paper bags full of money, which the Reverend Moon would either pocket or distribute to the heads of various church-owned business enterprises at his breakfast table.
“The Japanese had no trouble bringing the cash into the United States; they would tell customs agents that they were in America to gamble at Atlantic City. In addition, many businesses run by the church were cash operations, including several Japanese restaurants in New York City. I saw deliveries of cash from church headquarters that went directly into the wall safe in Mrs. Moon’s closet.”