- The Washington Times - Friday, January 3, 2003

Insider notes from United Press International for Jan. 3 …

Not a good start to the new year for Israeli premier Ariel Sharon, whose Likud Party is collapsing in the opinion polls after a series of corruption and vote-buying scandals. The latest polls show Likud struggling to get 32 seats in the 120-member Knesset in the elections scheduled for the end of this month. Then there were the angry "Sharon Must Go" demonstrations Friday outside his Negev ranch. And the newspaper Yediot Ahronot has broken a new scandal around Sharon's son, Gilad, who allegedly took $100,000 for consultancy services from controversial property developer David Appel, with hundreds of thousands more promised for aid in developing vacation homes in Greece. On completion of the project, Gilad Sharon was to receive an additional $1.5 million — thanks to the help of daddy's prime ministerial office in smoothing Appel's way to "the highest authorities" in Greece.

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Israel's economic crisis, with its economy shrinking and unemployment above 10 percent, means that Sharon's electoral fate could depend on talks in Washington next week with a top-level Israeli delegation. Led by Dov Weinglas, head of Sharon's office, it includes Ohad Morani, director general of the Finance Ministry and Amos Yaron, director general of the Defense Ministry. They are looking for a $4-billion direct aid package and a further $8 billion in loan guarantees. Just to make sure they got a warm welcome, Sharon this week ordered them all to acquiesce in a U.S. request to freeze all Israeli military sales to China for the foreseeable future.

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Bill Clinton is not the only outgoing chief executive whose pardons provoke controversy. Korean President Kim Dae-jung has granted executive amnesty to 122 people, stirring up a hornet's nest of criticism by including some of the country's biggest fraudsters. Among them are Chung Tae-soo, the founder of the Hanbo Group; Kim Sun-hong, the former president of the Kia Group; and Kang Chung-hoon, the former head of the government's Supply Administration. All were found guilty of corruption by the country's courts. Those pardoned include members of the most prominent companies in Korea, including Daewoo, whose founder, Kim Woo-Choong fled overseas. This is the seventh time that Kim exercised clemency in five years. Leaving Western governments in the populist shade, Kim has amnestied 10 million people, mostly traffic offenders after the nation's unexpected performance in last year's World Cup soccer championship. Kim's generosity is being challenged by the country's Grand National Party, which seeks to reform the law covering presidential pardon power.

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British diplomacy will be thin on the global ground next week, as its 150-plus ambassadors from around the world head back to London at Prime Minister Tony Blair's request for an unprecedented 2-day conference with his envoys. The meeting will take place Monday and Tuesday at the Queen Elizabeth conference center, just across the square from London's Houses of Parliament, and are apparently modeled on similar mass ambassadorial meetings long done by the French. War and Iraq top the agenda, but in the corridors, expect some concerned mutterings about Blair's new Europe Minister, Denis MacShane, who has ruffled diplomatic feathers by dismissing German proposals for EU reform as an attempt to put "a Kaiser" in Brussels.

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Dreadful loss of face at the Japanese Embassy in New Delhi. Tokyo's envoys thought they would become the most popular foreigners in India after financing the Indian capital's new Metro system, with some $400 million in soft loans from their Overseas Development budget. Despite baffling new rules (for Indians) about no riding on the roofs of carriages and no spitting while inside, the Delhi Metro is wildly popular. But New Delhi's enthusiastic commuters are now hailing not the Japanese, but the Koreans — who actually built the trains.

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