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Fri, Jan 21, 2000 - Page 3 News List

Marshall Islands to look into `secret money dealings'

STAFF WRITER WITH AFP

PHOTO: AFP

The Marshall Islands has established a high-level task force to review its diplomatic ties with Taiwan and investigate alleged secret money deals between Taipei and members of the previous government, Foreign Minister Alvin Jacklick said.

Newly elected President Kessai Note said last Friday that relations with Taiwan, established in 1998, will not be broken off.

But the new government wants secret deals -- allegedly linked to the establishment of diplomatic relations -- to be opened up to public scrutiny, Jacklick said in an interview with AFP.

"The president is concerned about unseen hands [doing business] behind the scenes," Jacklick said.

"Now that he's president, he has a responsibility to know what went on when the former government established relations with Taiwan."

However, Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied there were any secret deals involved in ties with the South Pacific country.

"Taiwan's cooperative plans with the Marshall Islands are transparent," said the ministry's spokesman Henry Chen (陳銘政). "The budget for these projects was passed by the Legislative Yuan."

A task force involving Minister in Assistance to the President, Gerald Zackios, Justice Minister Witten Philippo and Jacklick has been named by Note to conduct the review.

Government officials, who asked not to be named, said they believe that as much as US$7 million came into the Marshalls last year from Taiwan. They said the money was not deposited in Ministry of Finance bank accounts.

This information, however, was disputed by Taiwan's Ambassador to the Marshalls, Liu Fu-tien (劉富添).

Liu said in an interview that he was aware of rumors that had been floating around the capital of the Marshalls about large sums of money being provided by Taiwan to individuals.

"But where is the evidence?" he asked. "These are political times and such rumors come about in political times."

Taiwan pledged to assist the Marshall Islands in building an airport and other infrastructure projects when diplomatic relations were forged in 1998.

Despite the investigation, Chen said that cooperation plans with the Marshalls will continue.

Jacklick, who did not address the specifics of the financial issue, said that members of the Nitijela, the parliament in the Marshalls, were kept in the dark about the nature of the relationship with Taiwan.

"We, as responsible elected leaders, have a right to know," he said.

The justice minister said that "we will maintain the status quo until we complete the review."

Jacklick said that before the election there were a lot of rumors circulating in the country that the current ruling United Democratic Party was going to sever ties with Taiwan.

But, he said, this was just "political innuendo" intended to discredit the party.

"This administration is going to be transparent and responsive to the needs of the Marshallese," he said.

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