Romanian foreign minister speaks with Rice about acquittal of Marine

Foreign Minister Mihai Razvan Ungureanu has spoken to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to voice his concern about a U.S Marine who was acquitted of negligent homicide over a 2004 road accident, a statement said Friday. Teofil Peter, a 50-year-old bass player with the rock band Compact, died after his taxi was hit by a U.S. Embassy car driven by Marine Staff Sgt. Christopher VanGoethem. The Marine allegedly failed to yield at an intersection in Bucharest and hit the taxi, Romanian police said.

VanGoethem, who worked as an embassy guard and had diplomatic immunity from prosecution in Romania, left the country immediately after the Dec. 4, 2004, accident.

A U.S. court martial in Quantico, Virginia, on Tuesday cleared VanGoethem of negligent homicide in Peter's death. VanGoethem was convicted of making a false official statement to investigators and obstructing justice, the U.S. Marine Corps said in an e-mail sent to The Associated Press.

In the telephone conversation late Thursday, Ungureanu "reiterated surprise and regret" about the verdict and told Rice he wanted to find a way to allow Peter's family "to get back its dignity in a legal way."

He asked Rice for the support of the State Department in helping the family start a civil case against VanGoethem. Rice expressed regret about the bassist's death and offered support, a statement from the foreign minister said. Romania's prime minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu said Wednesday that the state would help Peter's family file a civil case against VanGoethem, reports the AP.


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