MARSHALL ISLANDS' MILI ATOLL RESORT DEVELOPER GUILTY

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By Joe Murphy

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (July 28, 2000 - Marshall Islands)---The multi-million dollar international resort development scheduled for Mili Atoll this year has run into a slight delay: it will be at least 10 years before the developer of the project will be available to continue the project.

Mo "Big Man" Haeng-ryong, 66, and his 52 year-old wife, Park Kwi-dai, have been sentenced to 10 years after being found guilty, along with 40 other members of their cult, of defrauding followers bilked in a so-called doomsday scenario.

The couple was sentenced July 13 in Seoul District Court, despite the apparent religious protection their activities might have been provided under Korea’s constitutional right of religion.

The Korean nation is described as "shocked" by the Seoul English language daily, The Korean Times, for many of the nearly 1,500 defrauded followers of Big Man were professionals. Many of these individuals ended up bankrupt, unemployed, divorced or attempted suicides. Big Man’s cult, says the times, "forced his followers to cross-guarantee loans and sell homes in the name of building a holy place."

Big Man originally came to the Marshalls several years ago with the close cooperation of the Mili Senator Kejjo Bien. He was touted in the media here as an economic giant of mystical proportions who was going to transform Mili Atoll into an international tourist destination for Korean travelers.

Artists’ renditions of sumptuous atoll getaways, replace with paved runways for arriving jets, port facilities for ships, and spawning golf courses were spread out in giddy array over many RMI officials’ desks.

An extremely well appointed "work camp" was constructed approximately three-quarters of the way to Laura to coordinate development of the Mili project. The "work camp," however, had many local observers speculating that it was a show camp only, a facility designed to impress visiting investors but not the type of facility designed to coordinated construction work.

On one occasion, Big Man organized a special charter flight to the Marshalls by several hundred Korean Investors on Asiana Airlines. The investors, who paid their own way for the look-see, were shocked when they actually went to Mili and found there was no viable infrastructure on the island.

Reports of physical fights on the return trip to Korea filtered back to the Marshalls as disgruntled investors reacted to their situation.

Big Man Mo himself, along with a cordon of deputies, visited the Marshalls several times, always availing himself to media questioning and coverage. But the land agreement on Mili, which was largely a one-sided political opportunity being exploited for votes by the incumbent, ran afoul of the electorate. At that point, Big Man began casting his lure of gigantic development in the Ralik Chain at Kwajalein and at Anro Atoll, the island closest to the capital of Majuro.

It was during this fracturing period that word came from Japan that Big Man had been jailed by Japanese authorities and held for deportation to Korea to face the mounting fraud charges.

Here in the Marshalls, however, the attitude of both the government and the public at large has been rather ho hum, with a very practical decision made to turn the Majuro-based "workshop camp" into a project center for the College of the Marshall Islands.

Big Man’s foray into the world of international shenanigans may have benefited him nothing more than 10 years of food provided by a Seoul prison, but for us guys and gals here in atoll land, we at least have a nice place to drive by and admire when we cruise down to Laura to see the about-to-be converted garment factory, another recent investor provided facility to be taken over by RMI.

The Marshall Islands Journal, Box 14, Majuro, Marshall Islands 96960 E-mail: journal@ntamar.com  Subscriptions (weekly): 1 year US $87.00; international $213.00 (air mail).

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