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Nominee Argyros Is Not Grilled

Senate: The Orange County businessman, the president's choice for ambassador to Spain, is asked one question by foreign relations panel.


WASHINGTON — Orange County billionaire George L. Argyros breezed through Senate nomination hearings Wednesday in his bid to become the next U.S. ambassador to Spain.

What could have been a tough grilling over Argyros' controversial business practices turned out to be a calm proceeding. Only three of the 19 members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee attended the hearing. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who sits on the committee, did not attend.

A committee aide said a vote on Argyros' nomination could come this week. The full Senate must approve the nomination as well.

Argyros was joined Wednesday by six other nominees for ambassadorial posts in Europe. Though they were asked several questions on complex foreign policy issues, Argyros faced only one, from Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.): What is the most important issue you will face as ambassador to Spain?

"The most important one is strengthening our continuing relationship with Spain and also work on terrorism issues," Argyros replied.

Biden, the committee chairman, agreed. The hearing was then adjourned.

One of Argyros' companies, Arnel Management, the largest apartment owner in Orange County, settled a $1.5-million consumer fraud lawsuit in September. Former tenants accused Arnel of keeping their security deposits for unneeded repairs even when they left their apartments in immaculate condition.

In late September, Forbes magazine included Argyros, who raised nearly $30 million for President Bush's campaign, in its annual list of the 400 wealthiest Americans, estimating his fortune at $1 billion. He is the former owner of Air Cal and the Seattle Mariners baseball team.

After the hearing, Argyros and his wife, Judie, talked of their Spanish lessons and briefings by State Department officials.

"It's like going to college all over again," Argyros said. "There's a lot to learn."

Argyros, who has visited Spain several times, said he had prepared intensely for the hearing and was surprised when he was asked only one question. His testimony before the committee lasted three minutes.

Although sad at the prospect of leaving their children and grandchildren behind, Judie Argyros said she was looking forward to learning to dance the flamenco.

Her husband of 39 years replied, "Remember, I haven't been confirmed yet."

The other nominees presenting testimony Wednesday were Robert Beecroft of Maryland and Stephen Minikes of the District of Columbia (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), Lyons Brown Jr. of Kentucky (Austria), William Montgomery of Pennsylvania (Yugoslavia), Melvin Sembler of Florida (Italy) and Ronald Weiser of Michigan (Slovak Republic).

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