News / Asia

Woman at Center of Petraeus Scandal is S. Korea Honorary Consul

Jill Kelley leaves her home November 13, 2012 in Tampa, Fla.
Jill Kelley leaves her home November 13, 2012 in Tampa, Fla.
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— South Korea's foreign ministry has confirmed to VOA that Jill Kelley, who is at the center of a scandal that has led to the resignation of the CIA director, is still serving as one of the country's honorary consuls in Florida.

A ministry official, speaking on condition he not be further identified, says the process to appoint Kelley began in August and she was given a certificate of appointment the following month.

Jill Kelley:

-37 year old socialite
-Worked as unpaid social liaison for US Central Command
-Hosted lavish parties in Tampa, Florida for society, military VIPs
-Married to prominent cancer surgeon
-Parents immigrated to the United States from Lebanon
Kelley is alleged to have tipped off the FBI about threatening e-mails from a woman who has been sexually involved with David Petraeus, the four star Army general who resigned last week as director of the Central Intelligence Agency after acknowledging an adulterous relationship with Paula Broadwell, who authored his biography.  

Kelley, 37, is known for her high-level social ties to MacDill Air Force Base, the home of the U.S. Central Command, near Tampa, Florida.

The Foreign Policy.com web site, quotes an unnamed diplomatic official as saying Kelley helped obtain support for the South Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and arranged meetings between the South Korean ambassador and local business leaders in the Tampa area.

A Fox News Channel program - “On the Record” with Greta Van Susteren - quotes a businessman as saying he met Kelley at the Republican National Convention in Tampa and was told  she was a close friend of Petraeus and had extensive business contacts in South Korea.

But TransGas Development President Adam Victor  told the broadcaster that Kelley appeared unexperienced in business, asking for a finder's fee of two percent for a coal gasification project (which would have totaled $80 million), far in excess of the standard rate.

An honorary consul is someone who is usually paid a modest amount by a foreign government to do part-time work in a region where an embassy does not have a consulate.

“They take care of notarizing documents for natives of the country that they represent, “ explains retired U.S. ambassador Ray Burghardt in Honolulu.

“Let's say, if somebody was the honorary consul of Sweden, which does not have a consulate here, if a Swedish person died here or a Swedish person ended up in legal problems like in jail here, the honorary consul could be helpful to that person,” he said.

Burghardt -- who also served a deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul and is director of East-West Seminars at the East-West Center in Hawaii -  says honorary consuls usually have close ties to the country they are representing.

“A lot of the honorary consuls are people who originally came from the countries or perhaps their parents came from the country. So they have some connection. In other cases maybe they used to do business representing companies from that country. Usually there's some link like that,” said Burghardt.

But the former ambassador adds that, in some cases, honorary consuls might be selected because the person merely has social standing and important connections in their local community.

That appears to be the case with Kelley, the daughter of Lebanese immigrants, with no known past ties to South Korea.

On Sunday Kelley is reported to have called police to complain about trespassers and told the dispatcher she was an honorary consul general and thus has inviolable rights.

The U.S. State Department says honorary consuls do not enjoy personal inviolability and they have diplomatic immunity only for “official acts.”
 
South Korea's nearest official consulate to Florida is in Atlanta, in the neighboring state of Georgia. There is a physical honorary consulate located in Miami where prominent corporate attorney Burton Landy has held South Korea's honorary consul general in Florida since 1988.   

The scandal that cost the CIA director his job  has also ensnared Marine Corps General John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. His nomination to head the U.S. European Command is on hold while investigators look at numerous e-mails he exchanged with Kelley, which are described as by the Pentagon as “inappropriate communications.”  

In Seoul, foreign ministry officials met Wednesday to discuss Kelley's position.

When asked by VOA whether her appointment might be revoked, a relevant official flustered by the deluge of sudden media inquiries regarding Kelley, openly questioned what would be diplomatic considering she has not been accused of any criminal activity or unseemly behavior.

“What do you think about this?” he asked.  


Youmi Kim, in the VOA Seoul bureau, contributed to this report.

Timeline of the Petraeus Scandal
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