Phone Interview with Lee Tae-Jong, Aired on June 5 (MBN News Wide)
Anchor: To find the details of the situation, we will have Mr. Lee Tae-Jong, the temporary spokesman of the Salvation Sect, on the line. Hello, Mr. Lee.
Lee: Yes, Hello.
Anchor: Yes, I heard a lot of members are gathering there. About how many people do you think?
Lee: We figured about 1,000 people until this afternoon.
Anchor: I see. Until this afternoon.
Anchor: About one thousand people gathered. Has there been more people coming since then?
Lee: Yes. I know there are more coming in at this time.
Anchor: I see. Last time you said that you cannot open Geumsuwon twice. Is this opinion remains the same?
Lee: Yes. Most of the people here didn’t change their mind.
Anchor: Don’t you feel uneasy at this point when arrest warrants were issued for Mother Kim and Mr. Yang Hoe-Jung, and there was continuous coverage about the rising possibility of the re-entry?
Lee: I think there are some who feel uneasy since we are humans. But then, I feel little bit concerned to see that many people tend to get more determined after they lose their hope.
Anchor: Right. People will be more suspicious thinking that you are preventing the entry to Geumsuwon because Mr. Yoo Byung-Eun is inside or there is something to hide. How about allowing them to enter and just show everything?
Lee: Of course, I would like to do that and hope to correct misunderstandings, but we are hurt too much. After all, we lost everything. Then we are not bearing it anymore. If the Prosecutors’ office cannot find anyone after their entry and suppression by force, they will be in trouble. I think there are quite a lot of people intending this to happen.
Anchor: Mr. Lee, I heard a lot of things from last Tuesday’s interview with you. In fact, we suggested another interview over the phone, and you agreed. Now we’re asking you questions and hearing answers from you, with a lot of viewers watching. Personally, I feel uneasy, so I want to ask you a question before I start today’s interview. Isn’t there any possibility that you will bring an action of libel against me or MBN?
Lee: I know there is a libel action filed against MBN for spreading false information from the guest speaker, Mr. Jeong, Dong-Sub.
Anchor: I see. You’re saying we spread false information. Okay. I am also a powerless individual. If I say something wrong, that could ….
Lee: Concerning the individuals, we are monitoring the claims of the speakers.
Anchor: The contention of the cast. Among the guest speakers.
Lee: That’s right. The claims that the guest speakers are making. Verification of information must take place before anything goes on air. I believe that is the responsible action of a broadcaster.
Anchor: All right. Anyhow, that is why we are broadcasting the opinion of the Salvation Sect, through you—Mr. Lee, the spokesman of the Salvation Sect, with our doors wide open. So, please correct me immediately if I say something slanderous. Then, let’s start.
Lee: I feel frustrated about the matter of fairness. All the words were broadcast without any verification. Then you’re like “If you were wrongly accused, dispute it.” I believe this is very unfair and unjust in an actual situation.
Anchor: I see. By the way, what you are insisting here is also a one-sided claim made by the Salvation Sect. The viewers watch and make their judgments. There is one thing to ask: as an ordinary person living in this country, I do not understand that you said you would die martyr. Is anyone going to enter to kill you? How can you use such an expression so naturally?
Lee: I think people who lost hope in their life will use that expression more easily.
Anchor: For better understanding, can you explain more in detail why you lost your hope?
Lee: Yes. We have raised funds and made lots of effort to prepare the land and establish our living spaces and companies for the past 23 years. There are many people who make their living from the land. But currently, all these properties are to be auctioned off.
Anchor: You mean, because of the idea of losing the land?
Lee: It is not an idea. It’s almost a fact. Auction is the only step left for us. The sales of the companies hit the bottom, so workers are not getting paid. Now, they cannot make their living. For the people who are in their 40s and 50s, it’s hard to get a job somewhere else. Moreover, they have to hide that they are members of the Salvation Sect to make their living in the society. If they hide who they are, they will lose their identity. It will hurt their self-esteem that they’ve had as believers, and many of them think that it’s not the way to live.
Anchor: Okay. Honestly, I do not understand that part. Last time, you said you understand everything with love. For example, we generally say with common sense that he is the religious leader. But you said it’s not true. He is just a spiritual mentor. By the way, it is hard for us to accept the large fortune and luxurious lifestyle of his family. Then, with love, you consider it as common property of the Salvation Sect. And you clearly said that he should be punished if he was indeed involved in any actions of embezzlement. Also, he should be punished if he is found to be somehow involved in the Sewol ferry accident. When I asked you about that point, you said, “Of course.”
Lee: That’s right.
Anchor: So does it mean there is no change in your opinion?
Lee: Of course not.
Anchor: And you said, “If it’s lawful, he will be investigated by the prosecution.” But now it is a bit different. You said it is hard to go through the investigation at this moment, and people who work in the companies run by the Salvation Sect are going through a difficult time to make living. I think I can understand that part, because the operation of the companies is at risk. But the church members will be able to go back to their ordinary lives when the investigation is complete. Isn’t it right?
Lee: Then, think about this. For example, do you think it’s possible to sell the products from Semo or the Salvation Sect in the future?
Anchor: Ah… You are concerned about that?
Lee: And we are now undergoing pressure from the bank for the principle repayment. The bank informed us unilaterally that the interest rate tripled up. Eventually we will have no choice but to file a bankruptcy. For the workers, they will lose their living. There will be no future.
Anchor: So anyway, I guess you think that Mr. Yoo Byung-Eun should not be arrested or detained. And there are two groups in there—one group wants to change the status quo and the other to not change the status quo, and of course, their individual thoughts are different, right? My concern is that your specific plan for action, after meeting for 30 minutes last Tuesday, was to not open the gate ever again. Then did you also decide to block the prosecution and the police if they try to enter Geumsuwon?
Lee: That’s not true. We the leaders—well, more like people who are in charge of making initial progresses—want for this to resolve in any way that the church members are not harmed, but every single one of them has anger, and perhaps resentment, in them that it’s hard to hold a rational conversation.
Anchor: I hope there isn’t any kind of self-injury arising with this commotion.
Lee: We are also most worried about it and want to prevent it from happening. However, we do not have any confidence in controlling the church members if a protest were to happen right now, considering the agitated emotional state that they are in right now.
Anchor: So are you saying that there is no group like a laymen’s council that can control what the laymen do?
Lee: We want to think and lead rationally, but they cannot calm down or control their anger and resentment.
Anchor: Then what would you do, Mr. Lee, if you were to hide Mr. Yoo Byung-Eun? You said before you were worried if Mr. Yoo is eating properly.
Lee: If he came to my house, I would think that it would be dangerous for him to stay there, so I would provide him food or money and tell him to endure it somewhere safe.
Anchor: I guess you’re saying that a church member’s house is dangerous.
Lee: Yes, of course.
Anchor: During the interview on Tuesday you said that you don’t know where Mr. Yoo Byung-Eun went or whom he is with or whether he is receiving shelter from anyone.
Lee: Yes, that’s correct.
Anchor: There is still no contact from him?
Lee: Use your common sense. Nowadays it’s possible to find somebody near Geumsuwon and some other place with a caller tracker. The prosecution should have already implemented this and tracked down where he is.
Anchor: You said that you meet Mr. Yoo Byung-Eun about five times a year, correct?
Anchor: Then would that mean that you are not really close to him or you are a key figure?
Lee: Yes, that’s right. I haven’t thought that I am close to him or am a key figure.
Anchor: Okay. Like last time, Mr. Lee Cheong, a previous member of the church, is here with us. According to Mr. Lee Cheong, you are the center of the key figures. If that is a false fact, please refute it.
Lee: If I were to be the center of the key figure, I don’t know to what extent Mr. Lee Cheong can be considered as a key figure. What I want to tell Mr. Lee personally is that he should stop what he has been doing if he cares for his own son, Han-Ho. He even shed tears on TV before, but he’s the kind of father who falsely accused his own son of carrying drugs and made him arrested. I really don’t know if he really loves his son. Han-Ho later sued the country and won the lawsuit. And now, Mr. Lee is using Han-Ho to cover up his stories…
Anchor: Just a second, Mr. Lee. I think it would be better if you could not talk about too much of personal information. I did not give you a chance to talk directly last time because with a small mistake it’s possible that either side’s arguments remain apart on the issue and only hurt the other side. I’ll give Mr. Lee Cheong a chance to speak about this matter. What you talked about, personally, is a bit … The reason for me asking was that before we started, Mr. Lee Cheong said to me that you are actually very close to Mr. Yoo Byung-Eun. If it is not true, I wanted to ask that question because I wondered how you are qualified—since you said you are not a key figure or close to Mr. Yoo—to talk as a temporary spokesperson who represents the Salvation Sect—a church that has history. I asked that question because Mr. Lee answered me that you are a key person when I asked him if you are not really close to Mr. Yoo or if you are not a key figure.
Lee: I think I can now tell what role I had. First, I work at Sunday school, and when I’m busy working outside. I come to the church once or twice a week and teach children. When I meet Mr. Yoo, I rarely talk about what kind of work I did or what work I received. I just greet him when I have the chance, which is not often. If something comes up sometimes, I talk a little about my opinion. For the last one year or two I saw Mr. Yoo about six times a year. That is all I could remember. Some time ago, like around 1997, I met him a lot, every once a week, because I was one of the members that discussed and studied the Bible. However, this did not happen during the last couple of years.
Anchor: Right now, Mr. Lee Cheong is saying that you are lying.
Lee: Well, if that is so, then he should explain what part is a lie.
Anchor: Well, we heard enough about your relationship, and we will talk with Mr. Lee Cheong about what he knows. Now, if you could talk about if you are actually representing the church, since you are a temporary spokesperson, and also about the question if there is someone behind the scenes.
Lee: We are, as I told you before, seeking for a collective system. Therefore, instead of a sermon, we hold a forum for studying the Bible with about seven people on the panel. Even now, about 20 to 50 people gather almost every day and discuss what we will do the next day. And the things from those discussions are implemented right away the next day, so right now the system is not like one person steering the whole group. Because Mr. Yoo Byung-Eun—
Anchor: Then this is somewhat like a collective leadership system.
Anchor: Then aren’t you saying that how the Salvation Sect will act from now on will be decided during those discussions?
Lee: Yes, that’s true.
Anchor: And you are speaking for that stance?
Lee: Yes, that’s true.
Anchor: Then how is that you, Mr. Lee, who is not a key figure or close to Mr. Yoo Byung-Eun and doesn’t know where he is, declare you will give a hundred thousand of the believers but not Mr. Yoo.
Lee: I announce what came out of those discussions. That doesn’t mean that I talk about personal opinion but represent what has been said collectively, right?
Anchor: Yes, I understand.
Anchor: So from that it’s decided that “we have to protect Mr. Yoo Byung-Eun,” correct?
Anchor: Without knowing his whereabouts?
Anchor: And today there has been an issue of a stowing away or seeking asylum.
Anchor: Yes. Did you know that? A stowaway broker revealed that someone prepared for the stowaway from early May, and this is told by the press.
Lee: I saw that in today’s news.
Lee: But I question the credibility of the report. First of all, they did not talk about who “someone” was, and in the article reported after that stated that they found out that it was Mr. Yoo Byung-Eun. If the reporter had some backbone, the reporter should have collected information about how the broker knew that “someone” was Mr. Yoo or how they assumed it on what basis. However, the reporter did not mention any of those.
Lee: Looking at those, I think the credibility of the report—
Anchor: Credibility lacks.
Lee: Yes, it is not credible news.
Anchor: If he does stow himself away, you don’t know from where he would most likely leave?
Lee: Well, no, because I have never had such an experience.
Anchor: Yes, and if he does stow himself away, it would seem like he is acting guilty.
Lee: Mr. Yoo that I know is not the kind of person that would stow himself away.
Anchor: So, whether he stows himself away or takes asylum, well... you sent a text message to the press saying that it was wrong to say such about the request for asylum.
Lee: Yes, that’s right.
Anchor: And you checked with the embassy, who said such a thing didn’t happen?
Anchor: When we asked whether he attempted to seek asylum through Mr. Oh Gabriel, the former ambassador to the Czech Republic, you answered that’s not true.
Anchor: You called him directly? Mr. Oh, the former ambassador to the Czech Republic?
Anchor: He is a brother-in-law, right? Of Yoo Byung-eun?
Anchor: It is said that the prosecution acquired evidence that Mr. Oh Gabriel, the former ambassador to the Czech Republic, was involved in this matter, and started investigation.
Lee: If that’s so, it’s really necessary to uncover the exact truth. This is my complaint; before the discovery of a lead is revealed to the press, isn’t it the prosecution’s duty to reveal it only after the prosecution actually finds all the relevant clues? We continue to be under attack about this. They are leaking clues and whatnot to the press... For instance, in the case of Mr. Yang Hoe-Jeong… If it’s leaked that he might be in Geumsuwon, then of course he will evade the police and go somewhere else. Then when the police come in, he’s not there. And then they are criticized. I think that the prosecution right now is digging its own grave as it tries to play the media.
Anchor: Ah, the prosecution is digging its own grave?
Anchor: I’m sure there might be people who think like that. I’ll ask Mr. Song here about this later. But you’re saying that’s how the Salvation Sect thinks?
Anchor: So it seems you’re certain that he is not the kind of person who will stow away, seek asylum, or make a pathetic attempt to flee?
Lee: Yes. And what I was trying to say is that they should report all the specific evidence and leave no doubts in people’s minds if something is clearly revealed. But instead, they’re leaking to the press when they’re just in the stage of having suspicions. This itself is what I would call an investigation based on the press.
Anchor: Yes, and regarding the actions of the Salvation Sect so far. I mean, even now people are gathering at Geumsuwon. There are speculations that this is advance groundwork for Yoo Byung-eun’s attempt to take asylum, or to stow away. Could you please explain this?
Lee: First, we could point out something if there are objective facts. But it’s difficult for us to respond because the prosecution continues to play the media only at the level of raising suspicions. Because it’s easy to say something, but it’s very difficult to prove that’s not true.
Anchor: Ah, yes. So, they should only speak with specific evidence instead of just playing the media.
Lee: Yes, that’s right.
Anchor: And it becomes more and more difficult for you to respond if they start painting you as a bad organization?
Lee: Yes, that’s right.
Anchor: And now, because of such distress, you said in the beginning that ‘we might die, we’re distressed to death’?
Anchor: So that’s probably why you mentioned that those who are in Geumsuwon might put up a strong resistance?
Anchor: And regarding a possible asylum destination. It keeps becoming more fictional. So the response from the Salvation Sect who argues they are under religious persecution, and how Yoo Sum-na, the first daughter of Yoo Byung-Eun, is arrested in France and hired a lawyer who specializes in religions. And although this is not confirmed, Yoo Byung-Eun might be seeking asylum in France or in a third country. There are speculations that all these are related. Such speculations are being made because France is thought to be the most likely place in which Yoo would seek asylum. Are you aware that he had purchased a country village? Did you find that out from the media?
Lee: Well, I knew about it before. I’d heard that he had bought a village.
Anchor: You have never been there?
Lee: No, I’ve never been there before.
Anchor: Have you heard that he was attempting to make it into a second Geumsuwon?
Lee: I think that it might serve our purpose since we seek to preserve natural environment and use it to decorate places, the places where people may live.
Anchor: I see. So this is also a common property?
Anchor: Everything is a joint property of the church members. It seems that you even consider the real estates in foreign countries owned by Yoo’s family as the property for all of the Salvation Sect.
Lee: Because we do actually gather there on Sundays to attend a service. So what they feel is that this is our land.
Anchor: And we already talked about this, but I’d like to ask a rather silly question. The car Mr. Dae-Kyun drives, that Bentley or something; but you said you drive a car that is about a half million won (~ $500)?
Lee: Yes, that’s right.
Anchor: I drive a 5-year-old domestic car as well. I mean, would we ever be able to drive a car like that in our lifetime?
Lee: Well, and there is something that I feel bad about. For them. Their actual ability to earn money is really remarkable. For example, I know that Yoo Dae-Kyun earns about 500 or 900 million won (~$900K or 500K) for his sculpture pieces.
Anchor: Who buys them?
Lee: There have been many purchases made, and I’m aware that even Chairman Ku Ja-Kyung (of LG) has commissioned him for his bronze statue.
Anchor: I see.
Lee: Personally, I think that they have the ability to gain such wealth on their own.
Anchor: You’re saying that you have no intention whatsoever to criticize them regarding this, and also that one should not criticize them at all?
Lee: I’m not saying that you shouldn’t. I think this is a question of values. You need to make an assumption that this could be money that they earned themselves. You shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that they have embezzled 100% of the money from the church members. You need to see what truth will come out into the open.
Anchor: That is under investigation now. When things come out into open, I think many believes will be disappointed.
Lee: What’s really important is that from our standpoint, we can’t really trust what the prosecution reports.
Anchor: The reason we can’t agree on anything is because you have no confidence at all in the investigations and reports of the prosecution right now.
Lee: It’s not that I don’t have any. It’s not all groundless, but they report their suspicions without giving any opportunity to make a counter-argument.
Anchor: Now actually, to tell you the truth, it’s already the second time that we’re speaking together. It’s not easy to have such an opportunity to make counter-arguments. Korea does have freedom of speech and you may say what you would like to say. Now, let’s say the prosecution suspects someone of crime and went with an arrest warrant for the suspect, but wasn’t able to capture him. What would you feel if your own family member were sacrificed in the Sewol ferry, and the country suspects that Yoo Byung-Eun was related to the incident, but a certain religious group is preventing his arrest? What I’m trying to say is that you need to be considerate on that aspect.
Lee: Now, think about that in reverse. The culprit has been decided upon even when the exact reason behind the Sewol ferry accident has not been discovered yet. That is because this investigation is based on the public opinion and is going according to pre-made plans.
Anchor: Then is our country the kind of nation that puts an innocent person in prison without reason by doing investigation based on the public opinion? Is our country that kind of country?
Lee: Former President Roh Moo-Hyun passed away like that.
Anchor: Why are you bringing up President Roh Moo-hyun? I don’t welcome exaggerating this matter with this topic here.
Lee: No, it’s not an exaggeration, but a fact. Why? Wasn’t it Prosecutor Choi Jae-Kyung who investigated the Park Yeon-Cha gate?
Anchor: Well, let’s do this, Mr. Lee. Last time, it seemed like there were many difference in our thoughts, so I talked about the families of the victims. And you said that you thoroughly understand their pain and offered sincere condolences.
Lee: Yes, that’s right.
Anchor: And so you said that you don’t want any more confrontations, so..
Lee: I wish everything turns out well.
Anchor: I hope that everyone will cooperate well with the investigation by the police so that there are no big confrontations. Thank you for your time again today.
Lee: I well..
Anchor: Please, go on.
Lee: What I want from the media is this. The people who have been branded as the Salvation Sect are also the citizen of this country. They have nowhere to go, because the media is going out of its way to bury them without leaving any small passage of hope for them to adapt and live in this society. The media should be more considerate of these people and report more fairly—this society will be able to stand upright that way.
Anchor: You said before that seven people meet together?
Anchor: Like a group of leaders, or like a legislative group?
Anchor: Having meetings
Lee: Twenty people at least, and 50 people when there’s more.
Anchor: Ah, so you reach a decision as a group, right? Let’s talk about this one more time today. What do you think about asking him to turn himself in?
Lee: I need to be able to contact him in order to ask him to turn himself in.
Anchor: What about making a public statement saying, “This is what the Salvation Sect would like you to do, [please turn yourself in]”?
Lee: Personally, I think this is not the right timing, personally. Because right now the public opinion is too biased, not right nor fair.
Anchor: You mentioned this last Tuesday as well. You would like to get out of this situation a little, and you personally would like this to be quickly resolved. You might be thinking on one end to ask him to turn himself in, but it’s not the right time now. That’s how I understood it.
Anchor: Anyway, thank you for your words today.
Lee: Yes. Thank you very much.