Embassies dispute legitimacy of Arab chamber of commerce
By Kim Se-jeong
The Arab Chamber of Commerce, which is less than one month old, finds itself embroiled in a scandal.
On June 21, businessman Rhee Dong-wook, a Muslim convert, founded the League of Arab States Chamber of Commerce in Korea (LASCCK) in Seoul.
The opening ceremony was attended by Hassane Berkani, chairman of the Moroccan Chamber of Commerce, who currently serves as vice chairman of the LASCCK.
He also received letters of support from a few Arab missions in Korea.
On July 2, however, embassies of other Arab states here released a statement, stripping it of its legitimacy.
“After communication with the Secretariat of the League of Arab States, they would like to assure that the League of Arab States did not endorse or participate in the establishment of the LASCCK,” said the statement sent by Sudanese Ambassador to Korea Mohamed Salah Eldin Abbas, the dean of the Arab diplomatic corps.
The same statement and complaint was also forwarded to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
“We (Arab embassies) won’t endorse the chamber of commerce because it wasn’t endorsed by the Arab league,” Ambassador Abbas told The Korea Times recently over the phone.
“It’s a fake one. I’ve never met the director of this organization,” said Lebanese Ambassador Issam Mostapha.
The sticking point of the controversy appears to be the word “League of Arab States.”
The embassies called for approval from Cairo, Egypt, where the headquarters of the Arab league, a regional organization of Arab states, is located, saying that it is a must to maintain the legitimacy of the LASCCK.
“The council of the General Union of Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture for Arab countries had issued a recommendation not to endorse the establishment of any Arab Chamber of Commerce or any similar entities in the form of private sector companies or organizations,” a letter from Cairo sent to The Korea Times through the Sudanese Embassy in Seoul said.
Rhee didn’t think so.
“This is a Korean organization established and working in Korea. As long as I report to the League of Arab States, which I did, I am not obliged to get approval from it,” he told The Korea Times.
Protests from Arab missions don’t seem to have had much of an adverse impact on the organization’s activity.
The chamber is in full swing with lots of membership requests “everyday,” he said.
“We see a huge interest not only from Korean businesses but also from Arab companies,” Rhee said. A South Korean jewelry company was one of the recent new members.
With the support of local Korean businesses and experts on Islam, the LASCCK also is seeking to open the first Islamic bank in Seoul later this year.
The foreign ministry only said it has been closely following the situation.
Rhee said the opposition came as a big surprise and disappointment.
“It’s not true that they don’t know me. I have been practicing Islam for nine years now. I met them at the mosque in Itaewon, and visited them at the embassies.”
He added, “We have a shared goal, which is to promote Arabic business and knowledge in Korea. We are supposed to work together instead of fight, aren’t we?”