Wed, Nov 08, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Presidential Office denies fund paid for diamond rings

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Presidential Office yesterday denied allegations that money from President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) special allowance fund had been used to buy diamond rings for the first lady.

"All the money has been used for public purposes and diplomatic missions," Presidential Office Spokesman David Lee (李南陽) said. "Not a single dollar has gone into the president's own pockets."

Although receipts for the purchase of two diamond rings were used to apply for reimbursement from the fund, the rings had been paid for by the first family, Lee said.

One of the rings, worth NT$1.3 million (US$41,484), was given to Chen's mother-in-law as a gift, Lee said. However, he could not offer a clear accounting for the other ring, valued at NT$320,000.

He was responding to the Control Yuan's request for an explanation as to why the rings were not in the first family's assets declaration.

However, the Presidential Office's Public Affairs Department late last night said that Lee's remarks on the two diamond rings "needed further verification."

Lee appeared to contradict the Taipei District prosecutors' statement that Chen had claimed some of the money from the special allowance fund had been used to buy gifts for Wu. Prosecutors said NT$276,235 of the purchase of the NT$1.3 million diamond ring had been paid for with Sogo Department Store vouchers.

Meanwhile, Lee downplayed Chen's claim that a US lobbying firm had threatened to switch its services to China if the government refused to renew its contract.

"The president just expressed the concern that the company might disclose classified information to China if it [Beijing] signs a contract with them," Lee said.

"The president did not accuse the firm of making a threat nor did he specify which firm he was referring to," Lee said.

In a Sunday press conference, Chen said: "This firm said that if we did not renew the contract, they would go to China ? It is the nation's interests we are talking about. If they sign a contract with China, it would have a great impact on our national interests because they know so many of our secrets. So I decided to renew the contract for another year."

The US public relations firm Cassidy & Associates issued a statement on Monday saying: "The president's information is wrong."

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