Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) in 1994 agreed to donate US$10 million to South Africa's heavily indebted African National Congress (ANC) to sustain Taipei-Pretoria ties, a retired veteran diplomat admitted for the first time yesterday.
"Beijing had paid US$10 million then and we simply matched it," former ambassador to South Africa Loh I-cheng (
Loh's remark came in the wake of the disclosure of confidential National Security Bureau (NSB) documents in the local press yesterday.
Loh said that after learning the ANC under Nelson Mandela was loaded with debt of US$20 million after the first all-race elections in 1994 that brought Mandela to power, he reported the situation to Lee during his visit to Pretoria for Mandela's presidential inauguration ceremony.
"The president said he was very impressed by Mandela and asked me if there's anything we could do to help the ANC. So I suggested that if we could help with half of the debt, Mandela would be most grateful," Loh recalled.
Loh also stressed the amount offered to the ANC then was US$10 million, adding that he had no idea why the leaked NSB document said the figure was US$11 million.
According to a China Times report, Lee, after his return from Pretoria, requested that the foreign ministry offer the donation to the ANC, but the ministry said it would have difficulty coming up with such a large donation.
Lee then asked the NSB to retrieve US$ 11 million from an alleged secret fund to advance the donation, and the foreign ministry several years later agreed to reimburse US$10.7 million to the NSB, the report said.
Control Yuan President Fred-erick Chien (錢復), who served as the foreign minister in 1994, yesterday said he was unaware of the alleged donation.
When contacted by the Taipei Times, Yang Ching-chih (楊清吉), a former foreign ministry accountant who reportedly handled the reimbursement of the donation to the NSB, said "the matter had nothing to do with me."
In fact, Taiwan's US$10 million donation to the ANC was not news in South Africa as a South African journalist, Gaye Davis, reported the deal in a Dec. 8, 1995 article in the Weekly Mail & Guardian.
"President Nelson Mandela has cited a US$10 million donation from the Republic of China on Taiwan for the African National Congress' general election campaign as one reason South Africa would not break ties with the island republic in favor of diplomatic relations with mainland China," Davis wrote in her story.
Mandela then said the money was given as "a donation and not a bribe" and that the ANC would not repay a friend's favor by "stabbing them in the back," the report said.
The 1995 report also said that then-ambassador Loh had insisted no donation had been made.
Mandela announced at the end of 1997 that South Africa would sever ties with Taipei to establish links with Beijing, just months after saying such a step would be "immoral" as Taiwan had been a good friend to his ruling ANC.