Minister of Foreign Affairs James Huang (黃志芳) yesterday said that he never promised Wu Shi-tsai (吳思材) any compensation, except to reimburse Wu for money spent on travel and accommodation in pursuit of relations with Papua New Guinea.
Wu and his partner, Ching Chi-jiu (金紀玖), were commissioned by the Taiwanese government in August 2006 to help set up a formal tie with Papua New Guinea. MOFA later wired US$30 million into the two men’s joint account in Singapore.
The money, Huang said, was to “secure the interest of the PNG government” and was to be handed over to the South Pacific nation once a formal diplomatic tie had been established.
However, when the deal fell through in December 2006, Ching refused to return the money and has since severed all communication with the ministry, Huang said.
“To make sure that the money remained intact, in January 2007, MOFA requested Wu to turn over his account ownership to MOFA personnel which he did, but the bank did not recognize the transfer,” he said, adding that MOFA does not rule out the option of suing the bank if it was determined that the bank was at fault in enabling Ching to empty out the account.
However, Wu never mentioned the request during his afternoon press conference, only to say he allowed Ching to transfer the entire sum to his own personal account “because Ching told me he would then remit the money back to the Taiwan government,” Wu said.
At the moment, it is unclear if there is any money left in the Singapore account. The Singapore High Court has already placed an injunction on the account to freeze all movement.
Wu did not clarify when he agreed to transfer the money to Ching’s name or when the transaction was completed.
During his press conference, Wu, a Singapore national, also said he was told by the Papua New Guinea government that it wanted only US$20 million to switch alliance from Beijing to Taipei.
However, when he reported the sum back to Ching – allegedly his sole contact window to the Taiwan side — Ching instructed him to demand US$40 million from the ministry.
Huang recalled he was very displeased with the amount and insisted on cutting it down to US$30 million, but stressed he had absolutely no knowledge of the original amount.
Huang also said Wu has persistently assured the government that the money was in the account and even produced a bank statement last July as proof of the existence of the money.
However, to MOFA’s dismay, it was not until March that Wu came clean with the ministry that he had already given Ching sole ownership of the account in February last year, Huang said.
A high-ranking MOFA official said it remains a mystery how Wu was able to produce a July 2007 statement if it was true that his name had been removed in February of that year.
In related developments, Taipei prosecutors released Vice Premier Chiou I-jen(邱義仁) early yesterday morning after interviewing him as a witness in the fund scandal investigation.
Huang and Chiou were summoned on Friday for questioning as witnesses to explain why the ministry decided to employ Ching and Wu as brokers. Prosecutors said the two offered certain documents about the diplomatic work to them. But prosecutors refused to reveal details of the interviews.
Prosecutors yesterday afternoon summoned Wu for the second time. Prosecutors on April 25 made a request to the Taipei District Court to detain Wu after interviewing him, but the district court turned down the request, citing insufficient evidence to keep Wu in custody.
Prosecutors said after they seized a key document a few days ago, they now had better information about the whole matter. Prosecutors said if any government officials pocketed money from the fund, they would be charged with corruption.
Meanwhile, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chiu Yi (邱毅) claimed yesterday that the NT$30 million diplomatic fund scandal was the diplomatic mission President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) said had been paid from his special allowance fund.
Chiu accused Chen of fabricating the diplomatic mission code named “The South Route Project” in 2006 to cover up his embezzlement of the presidential allowance, and later asking the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) to wire money to the two brokers in the same year to mislead the public to believe in the existence of the project.
Chen has claimed that part of the fund was used to pay secret agents or informants involved in a project, and denied embezzling the fund.
Claiming that the president was behind the Papua New Guinea scandal, Chiu criticized MOFA for wiring the huge amount of money to Ching, who was under investigation over a construction scandal involving Taipower Corporation during the period, without double-checking his background, urging the prosecutors to also investigate other related personnel other than the two brokers.
In related news, the Presidential Office last night denied KMT Legislator Ting Shou-chung’s (丁守中) allegation that Ching made political donations to President Chen via former Presidential Office deputy secretary-general Ma Yung-cheng (馬永成) in 2000 and 2004.
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