- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Ambassador resigns

The president of South Korea yesterday accepted the resignation of his ambassador in Washington, who is at the center of an expanding political scandal involving illegal campaign contributions, illegal wiretaps and the attempted suicide of a former South Korean spy.

In Seoul, President Roh Moo-hyun said he reluctantly accepted the resignation of Ambassador Hong Seok-hyun.

“I feel sorry because he has been doing a good job as ambassador to the United States at a crucial period,” Mr. Roh said.

In Washington, Mr. Hong held a meeting with his staff to apologize to them, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.

“I am pained that this has left wounds in the hearts of the people. I can only ask their forgiveness,” the agency quoted him as saying.

Mr. Hong later told reporters at the South Korean Embassy that he will stay in office until a new ambassador arrives. He has been ambassador here only since February.

The scandal deepened yesterday as prosecutors in Seoul opened an investigation into reports that Mr. Hong discussed millions of dollars in illegal campaign contributions in the 1997 presidential elections with an executive with South Korea’s giant Samsung Corp.

Samsung issued a public apology on Monday, but did not admit any guilt.

Reports on the South Korean MBC TV network last week said Mr. Hong and Samsung executive Lee Hak-soo discussed corporate contributions to presidential candidates Lee Hoi-chang and Kim Dae-jung during the 1997 campaign. Mr. Kim won the election.

MBC obtained what it said was a tape of a conversation between the Samsung executive and Mr. Hong, who was then publisher of the mass-circulation JoongAng Ilbo daily newspaper. The tape was recorded by agents of South Korea’s national intelligence agency, which opened its own investigation into the tape scandal yesterday.

In another development, the former agent who secretly recorded the conversation attempted suicide by stabbing himself in the stomach. Kong Un-yeong was listed in stable condition in a Seoul hospital yesterday.

In a 13-page suicide note, Mr. Kong said the tape was among 200 that he took with him when he left the agency in 1998. He said he gave the tape to a Korean-American identified only as “Mr. Park,” who leaked the tape to MBC after attempting to blackmail Samsung, according to the note.

The agency stopped Mr. Park and two MBC correspondents from attempting to leave the country yesterday, JoongAng Ilbo reported.

Diplomatic history

Ronald E. Neumann will make history today when he is sworn in as the new U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and becomes the first ambassador to serve in a position once held by his father.

His father, Robert G. Neumann, was ambassador in Afghanistan more than 30 years ago.

Barry Schweid, the veteran diplomatic correspondent for the Associated Press who dug up this unusual news item, noted that the Neumanns are the first father-and-son team to serve as ambassadors to the same country, but not the first diplomats to achieve that distinction.

Before the government created the position of ambassador, John Adams and his son, John Quincy Adams, both served as envoys to Great Britain as “minister plenipotentiary.”

They were also the first father and son to be elected president: Adams in 1796 and his son in 1824.

In other diplomatic news, President Bush this week nominated former White House counsel C. Boyden Gray to serve as ambassador to the European Union. Mr. Gray, who served in the administration of Mr. Bush’s father, is currently head of an independent group formed to support Mr. Bush’s Supreme Court nominees.

Mr. Bush also selected Richard Jones, a senior adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, as the new ambassador to Israel and Francis Joseph Ricciardone Jr. as ambassador to Egypt.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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