Sun, Sep 03, 2006 - Page 3 News List

Presidential Office denies any slush fund irregularities

CNA , TAIPEI

The Presidential Office reiterated yesterday that there has been no breach of law in connection with the reimbursement of a "state affairs fund" budgeted for President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) discretionary use.

The Presidential Office issued the statement after media reports said investigators had discovered a total of NT$10.2 million (US$310,000) worth of "questionable" invoices that were tied to gift vouchers for an upscale department store and used to reimburse the president's special state affairs fund between 2003 and last year.

Stressing that the entirety of the special state affairs fund was used for official functions, the Presidential Office said no misuse or irregularities had been involved in their fund reimbursements.

Now that the case has entered judicial proceedings, the statement said, the media and society alike should refrain from "outrageous speculation."

According to media reports, the NT$10.2 million worth of invoices used for reimbursements were suspicious because the purpose of their use was unclear.

Based on the tracking numbers on the Sogo Department Store gift vouchers, investigators managed to track down 21 relevant consumers and subpoena them as witnesses on Thursday and Friday. All were released after questioning.

Media reports quoted unidentified investigators as saying that all the questioned witnesses were upscale consumers, most of them women, and that they were tracked down mainly because they had paid by credit card after using up their gift vouchers.

The investigators said all had claimed they were not the original buyers of the gift vouchers and that they had no idea why the voucher-related invoices ended up in the Presidential Office's accounting reports. But they didn't hesitate to tell investigators of the sources of their gift vouchers.

As none of the tracking numbers on the vouchers were consecutive, the investigators tentatively concluded they could not have been collectively purchased by a group of "friends" of the first lady, nor could they have been offered by a businessman as a bribe to the first family during a fierce ownership battle for the department store four years ago, as had been claimed by opposition lawmakers.

Opposition politicians have charged that Chen used "fake invoices" to reimburse his state affairs expenses after the Ministry of Audit under the Control Yuan found some irregularities in the Presidential Office financial accounts.

The ministry referred the case to the Taiwan High Prosecutors' Office in late June for further investigation. The prosecutors' office then formed a special task force to probe whether there had been any breach of law in the use of the president's special state affairs fund. So far only the owner of a pharmaceutical company has been listed as a suspect in the case.

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