EXTORTION OR BUSINESS DEAL, SEMNANI SHOULD EXIT BOARD

Published: Friday, Jan. 3 1997 12:00 a.m. MST

Threats of extortion, when they come from people in powerful public positions, may be difficult to resist. In the case of Envirocare of Utah's owner Khosrow Semnani, such alleged threats have been likened to a gun against the head.

Semnani claims the state's former chief radiation-control officer demanded money from him with the implied threat that Anderson would create problems for the company. Envirocare was trying to amend its license to operate a radioactive waste facility. For his part, Anderson has sued, claiming he was owed even more money as a type of consulting fee.Regardless of which story is correct, Semnani should resign his seat on the state's Board of Radiation Control. He has said he will take a leave of absence for a few months until the case runs its course, but that is not enough.

Extortion is a criminal offense and cannot be tolerated, especially in a public arena. But even a more innocent relationship between a state radiation-control officer and a company over which he has even the slightest authority is wrong, particularly if it involves money. While criticizing Semnani's involvement after the fact may be an oversimplification of the pressures involved, his resignation is the only way to begin restoring public confidence in an important public process.

To restore confidence entirely, the state should launch an investigation into its radiation control process to determine whether other such monetary arrangements exist. Then it should find ways to improve the process to make the reporting of any alleged threats simpler and more effective.

Semnani told the Deseret News he feared going to the attorney general, the governor or any law enforcement agencies because they likely would view him as trying to influence the licensing process. Instead he paid Anderson $600,000 over eight years. Anderson doesn't dispute the payments. He claims they were part of a legitimate business arrangement that was given informal approve by the Attorney General's Office.

It's a dispute that promises to take its time to unravel in court, barring any settlements. Meanwhile, Utahns are left with the realization that none of this would have come to light had Anderson, who now is retired and living in another state, not sued.

That is unacceptable. Regardless of which story is true, the arrangement should have raised eyebrows with the Attorney General's Office and with Semnani.

Waste-management may be a highly competitive, cutthroat business, as Envirocare officials say, but the public must be satisfied that its relationship to the state is above reproach. Semnani may have felt he had a gun to his head, but the threat really is against the people of Utah.

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