Sun, Sep 24, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Ma admits to dog handling mistake

BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE Taipei's mayor said that people shouldn't compare his case with charges against the president, and that he had covered all the expenses

By Mo Yan-chih  /  STAFF REPORTER

In the wake of charges that the first lady has embezzled money from a secret Presidential Office fund, Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) found himself in the dog house yesterday after admitting that he paid to adopt his dog with money from the mayor's office's special expenditure fund.

A group of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators accused Ma on Friday of embezzling NT$79,700 from the fund to pay for a physical examination and other expenses for his dog, Ma Hsiao-jeou (馬小九).

The lawmakers' allegation is being investigated by Black Gold Investigation Bureau prosecutors.

Ma, who had previously denied embezzlement accusations on several occasions, admitted yesterday that money used to pay Ma Hsiao-jeou's bills came from the fund. He said he had already repaid the money.

"I adopted the dog during an event held by the city government," he said while attending the International Car-free Day event sponsored by the Taipei city and county governments. "I didn't know the adoption and examination fee was paid for by the fund."

Ma said he adopted the dog during a stray-dog-adoption event organized by the Taipei City Government in 1999. Ma Hsiao-jeou then stayed in the Taipei Municipal Institute for Animal Health for quarantine and physical examinations for a month before the mayor's wife took him home.

Ma said the bill for adoption and examination fees was sent to his office, and that the city's Budget, Accounting and Statistics Department drew money from the fund to pay the bill because the dog was adopted during a municipal event.

"I thought my wife paid for it, and didn't know the money was from the fund until recently ? Although the budget, accounting and statistics department said the procedure is legal, I was uneasy and paid the money back," he said.

The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman insisted that his situation could not be compared with that of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and his family, who have been accused of pocketing public funds.

"I adopted the dog at a public welfare event, and so paying the fee with money from the fund is legal. Besides, I didn't take false receipts to seek reimbursement. My situation is not the same as President Chen," he said.

At a press conference called later in the day, Taipei City's Budget, Accounting and Statistics Department Commissioner Shih Shu-mei (石素梅) said the bill came to NT$9,900 rather than the NT$79,700 the DPP legislators claimed. He also said it had been listed a public affairs expense and had been verified by the Ministry of Audit.

Taipei Information Department Commissioner Lo Chih-cheng (羅智成) reiterated that Ma had already reimbursed the city government.

"Also, the fee is not NT$79,700. Whoever came up with the number should have provided evidence when they made the accusations," he said at the Taipei City Hall.

Several DPP lawmakers have been raising questions about Ma's integrity since July. On Friday they urged Ma again to provide a detailed explanation of the issue.

Acknowledging that he should have "had a higher standard when dealing with the issue" and paid the fee out of his own pocket in the first place, Ma said the city government would make public the receipts soon, perhaps tomorrow.

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