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WASHINGTON - U.S. Ambassador John Price, a Salt Lake City resident and major Republican fundraiser, has quietly left his East African post to return to Utah.

The U.S. State Department confirmed Price left as ambassador June 13 but referred all questions to Price, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

As of Tuesday night, the State Department still listed Price as an ambassador. A department spokesman said he doubted there was a resignation letter from Price and if there was, it would be deemed private "internal correspondence."

It was unclear why Price left his post, but he was quoted in a local newspaper, L'Express, saying goodbye. "I arrived as a businessman and I leave as a diplomat," according to a translation of the French language newspaper article.

Price faced tough criticism after his appointment in February 2002 as ambassador to Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros - all located off the coast of Africa, near Madagascar.

At one point, a local newspaper called for his resignation after he skipped the swearing-in ceremony for the new president of Mauritius, a tropical island in the Indian Ocean.

Besides the perceived slight to the nation, the editorial in Le Mauricien, the country's largest newspaper, took Price to task for essentially buying an ambassadorship through campaign contributions and also for a U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding a civil judgment against Price Development Co., which Price founded and controlled.

The court last year upheld a Salt Lake City jury's verdict that the development company must pay almost $9 million for cheating two former partners in a 1994 shopping mall deal.

Price is one of the most "prolific" GOP donors, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which says he and his family donated nearly $700,000 to the Republican Party and President Bush's elections since 1999.

Price was one of two ambassadors from Utah named by President Bush. The other is Tom Korologos, a former Salt Lake City resident and Salt Lake Tribune writer, who was appointed ambassador to Belgium.

Korologos spent years in Washington helping Republican administrations lobby judicial nominees and legislation through Congress, earning him the nickname "the 101st senator," according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Korologos and his family have donated $107,800 to the GOP or President Bush since 1999, the center reported this week.