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Dismissed envoy lashes out at critics

February 24, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ On his last day in office, Secretary of State Warren Christopher dismissed James Wood, an Arkansas Democrat, as chief U.S. representative for Taiwan just 13 months after he took office.

Wood said he was given 90 minutes to draft a resignation letter and, to emphasize the depth of his fall from favor, locks to his office were changed immediately afterward.

On Sunday, an embittered, indignant Wood stood before reporters and pronounced his career in ruins, partly the result of what he said were false accusations he used his position to solicit contributions for President Clinton’s re-election campaign.

Expanding on a statement he faxed to news organizations Saturday, Wood said was victimized by efforts to detail corruption and fraud that occurred at the office before he was named to head it.

Beyond this ``horrific taxpayer ripoff,″ he said, were ``the worst sort of inhumane sex scandals″ in which visa-seeking Taiwanese women were forced to have sex with a visa office employee or have their visa requests denied. He did not name the employee.

Far from fulfilling his high hopes of furthering U.S. interests on the island when he took office, Wood said he ``wound up in a mess less appetizing than a dog’s breakfast.″

Wood’s official title was chairman of the board and managing director of the American Institute on Taiwan. The institute was established in 1979 after the United States ended formal ties with the Nationalist China government on Taiwan and opened diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China.

With offices in suburban Virginia, Wood directed U.S. relations with Taiwan, often traveling to the island for consultations.

State Department officials, asking for anonymity, said they understood that Wood took documents with him when he left the institute to bolster his contention that he wanted to end corruption there.

At the news conference, Wood said he was angered about news reports in recent months suggesting that he had solicited contributions for President Clinton’s re-election campaign from Taiwanese business interests.

Such allegations are outrageous, Wood said, but he acknowledged that he occasionally reminded business people on Taiwan of the island’s dependence on the United States for its security.

The Los Angeles Times reported that ``some Taiwanese″ interpreted these comments as a pitch for campaign contributions.

Wood said he never implied any such thing and that he has ``never sought or received any campaign contributions for the president, the Democratic National Committee or anyone else.″

State Department officials said the department’s inspector general referred the allegations of campaign solicitation to the Justice Department some time ago.

Wood said the corrupt practices he described were begun by his predecessor, Natale Bellocchi. Efforts to reach Bellocchi at his suburban Washington home on Sunday were unsuccessful.

``It is clear that massive corruption, fraud, graft and sexual harassment and mismanagement were ongoing during Bellocchi’s tenure as chairman,″ Wood said, basing his contention on an independent audit.

The State Department officials contacted Sunday said auditors were hired before Wood assumed his duties and that some of their findings have been challenged.

Besides the sex-for-visa scandal, Wood said other examples of corruption he uncovered include:

_Some $5.3 million in visa fees which are unaccounted for.

_``Apparent fraudulent transactions″ totaling $400,000, spent during a trade promotion campaign by the Taiwan office.

_A cover-up in which auditors were told that termites had eaten documents substantiating procurements by the office.

_A visa-bribery scandal in which individuals paid $20,000 to $25,000 for visas.

_A pension plan scheme designed especially for the personal enrichment of Bellocchi.

_Massive problems with real estate issues at the Taiwan office, which include ``corruption, confusion and mismanagement.″

_Gross negligence in failing to protect American citizens on Taiwan who are entitled to diplomatic immunity.

In response to allegations by Wood that the FBI has ``not acted expeditiously″ on the information he gave the agency, an FBI spokeswoman refused comment Sunday on the ground that the matter is under investigation.

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