U.S. diplomat accused of fraud flees

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U.S. diplomat accused of fraud flees

A United States diplomat working in Busan in southern Korea has fled the nation while under investigation for fraud, local police said yesterday.

The Haeundae Police Department in downtown Busan said the official, Dario Tomas, left the country on March 3 without reporting to the U.S. Embassy in Seoul. Two days later, he lost his diplomatic immunity.

An indictment issued last Friday by a U.S. federal grand jury sitting in San Diego charges Tomas with wire fraud. The indictment said that Tomas, a 51-year-old employee of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, devised a scheme to defraud investors of $240,000 from May 1, 2007 to Oct. 29, 2009, by making a bogus promise that their money would be invested in building a computer school in the Philippines.

The indictment said Tomas created false e-mail accounts and used them to send messages to his investors to show the investment project was making inroads.

Wire fraud is punishable by a maximum of 20 years in prison or a $250,000 fine, or both, according to the indictment.

The Haeundae Police Department said Tomas is a Filipino-American and said a 50-year-old South Korean woman named Lee lost 220 million won ($195,000) in the scheme.

One investigator in the foreign affairs division told the JoongAng Daily that Tomas had been based in Busan for nearly five years and that he had been commuting from a local hotel. When he didn’t return one evening, the police tried to locate Tomas and discovered he had already left Korea.

If he had not fled, police would have arrested Tomas for extradition to the United States, officials said.

An investigator said police didn’t know where Tomas had gone, refuting local media reports that he had left for the Philippines. The investigator said Korean police have asked Interpol to help locate the fugitive.

The diplomat was initially questioned last November and police learned that he had no business plans in the Philippines. The Korean government had asked the U.S. to strip him of diplomatic immunity. The U.S. government did so on March 5, months after its own investigation into the diplomat.

Investigators in Busan believe Tomas knew that Lee had received a lump sum of insurance money after losing her husband in an auto accident.

Lee said the U.S. government should take responsibility.

“I didn’t really doubt him because he was an official recognized by the U.S. government,” she said. “I gave him the money I’d saved for my daughter’s education. I’ve been cooperating with police since November believing I could get my money back. Now that the man has run away, the U.S. government should be held accountable.”

By Yoo Jee-ho [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]
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