Archive for January 31, 2012
Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan apologized to the nation for allegations of a stock-rigging scandal involving diplomats, after prosecutors raided his ministry in a widening probe over the accusations. “I sincerely apologize to our people for letting this sort of thing happen,” Kim said. “I hang my head in shame,” a stern-faced Kim said, adding he will “take responsibility for anything I must be held accountable for.” The ministry has been rocked by the scandal linked to CNK International, a local company developing a diamond mine in Cameroon, after state auditors last week asked it to sack a senior diplomat for playing a role in releasing a fallacious official press statement in December 2010. The statement said that Cameroon authorized CNK to develop a diamond mine in the African country and the mine was estimated to have 420 million carats, more than twice the global diamond production. After the ministry’s statement was issued, shares of CNK jumped more than five-fold in 16 trading days. State auditors found that brothers and associates of the senior diplomat, Ambassador Kim Eun-seok, who is in charge of energy and resources, pocketed financial gains by investing their money into CNK shares during the period. According to audit results, the senior diplomat had learned that the estimated volume of diamonds was exaggerated, prior to the issuance of the press release. The ambassador Kim has insisted on his innocence. Early on Monday, prosecutors seized computer hard disks and documents at the offices of Ambassador Kim and public relations officials, marking the first time that the ministry has been subject to a search by prosecutors.
A Mexican diplomat in Venezuela says the country’s ambassador has been freed by captors hours after he and his wife were kidnapped. Mexican Embassy spokesman Fernando Gondinez tells the Venezuelan news website Noticias 24 that Ambassador Carlos Pujalte was kidnapped Sunday night in Caracas and was freed hours later. Gondinez says both the ambassador and his wife are in good condition. He did not offer details about how the abduction occurred or about the liberation.
Two more Russian diplomats have left Canada in the wake of an espionage scandal involving a junior Canadian naval officer. Sources say a defence attaché in Ottawa and a consulate worker in Toronto have been sent back to Russia. The Russian embassy says they left simply because their contracts had ended. Sub.-Lt. Jeffrey Delisle, 40, was charged two weeks ago with leaking information to a “foreign entity” and breach of trust. Shortly after Delisle’s arrest, four Russian embassy staff were sent back home. Moscow denied their return had anything to do with the espionage allegations. Sources say that the leaked information could include data on underwater dead zones, which would allow Russian submarines to penetrate sensitive areas. Weapons system information may also have been leaked.
A month after the last US troops left Iraq, the State Department is operating a small fleet of surveillance drones here to help protect its embassy and consulates, as well as US personnel. Senior Iraqi officials expressed outrage at the program, saying the unarmed aircraft are an affront to Iraqi sovereignty. The program was described by the department’s diplomatic security branch in a little-noticed section of its most recent annual report and outlined in broad terms in a two-page online prospectus for companies that might bid on a contract to manage the program. It foreshadows a possible expansion of unmanned drone operations into the diplomatic arm of the US government; until now they have been mainly the province of the Pentagon and the CIA. US contractors say they have been told that the State Department is considering future plans to field unarmed surveillance drones in a handful of other potentially “high-threat’’ countries, including Indonesia and Pakistan, and in Afghanistan after the bulk of US troops leave in the next two years. State Department officials say that no decisions have been made beyond the drone operations in Iraq. The drones are the latest example of the State Department’s efforts to take over functions in Iraq that the military used to perform. Some 5,000 private security contractors now protect the embassy’s 11,000-person staff, for example, and typically drive around in heavily armored military vehicles. When embassy personnel move throughout the country, small helicopters buzz over the convoys to provide support in case of an attack. Often, two contractors armed with machine guns are tethered to the outside of the helicopters. The State Department began operating some drones in Iraq last year on a trial basis and stepped up their use after the last American troops left Iraq in December, taking the military drones with them.
A Toyota Camry isn’t usually the type of car that turns heads. It certainly isn’t considered a flashy ride on the streets of Beijing, where Audis, BMWs and Mercedes SUVs dominate where three-wheeled rickshaws once ruled. So when David Mulroney, Canada’s ambassador to China, posted online photos of his official car – a silver Camry hybrid – the reaction from the Chinese Internet was something close to shock. Especially when he explained that even cabinet ministers in Canada only have a budget of $32,400 for their official car. “A vice-minister in Beijing drives the Audi A6, which costs over 500,000 yuan (about $80,000), and they also have a full-time driver. A local township official might drive a Benz,” wrote one of more than 1,100 people who responded to the ambassador’s posting on the Canadian Embassy’s official Weibo site. All of which provided kindling for the debate over Mr. Mulroney’s relatively modest wheels. Even the Global Times, a newspaper closely affiliated with the Communist Party, used the online discussion of the official Canadian Camry to raise the sensitive topic of government officials and their cars. “Government vehicle issue in China is a mess, and our government is the most unwilling in the world to talk about it,” Ye Qing, a member of the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament told the paper. Mr. Ye has in the past argued that the country could save more than $150-million a year by capping official spending on cars the way Canada and other countries do. Mr. Mulroney told the Global Times that he had decided to post about his official car on Weibo because “we get a lot of questions about how we operate at the embassy, what rules govern our work, and how much money we spend.”