Saturday, April 03, 2010

US Diplomat Allegedly Received Tips Before Fleeing

An American diplomat in South Korea who fled to the Philippines, two days before U.S. authorities were to strip him of diplomatic immunity, might have benefited from advance tips, a local daily said Saturday.

Dario Thomas, a 50-year-old official with the Department of Homeland Security, is accused of swindling 220 million won from a local widow, identified only by her last name, Lim.

Thomas left the country on March 3, two days before he would lose his diplomatic immunity.

The police suspect that the American government "tipped" the accused in advance about the U.S. imminent decision on invalidating his diplomatic privilege, which would lead him to subject to the South Korean judicial investigation, Chosun Ilbo said on Saturday.

The U.S. embassy flatly rejected the allegation, saying it "didn't know he already left the country before his diplomatic immunity was scrapped," the newspaper said.

The suspect allegedly promised her a high return on an investment in the Philippines.

The diplomat was initially questioned last November and police learned that he had no business plans in the Philippines.

The Korean government then asked the U.S. to strip him of diplomatic immunity.

The U.S. embassy assured the police that the suspect wouldn't be able to flee because his passport was confiscated until his case was under review. "But they didn't confiscate his civilian passport," Chosun said. A diplomat has both diplomat and civilian passports. He fled using his civilian passport.

Lim, who was married to an American, got to know the U.S. diplomat in 2007 at an airport. After Lim's husband died in a traffic accident, he accompanied her to the U.S. embassy in Seoul to file paperwork related to the death. The process was speedy, making him gain Lim's trust.

If convicted locally, the suspect could face up to 10 years in prison in South Korea.

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