Described by his many friends as a man who knows nothing but politics, former vice premier Chiou I-jen (邱義仁) made a painful decision last week when he offered to leave his “beloved” Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and retire from politics for good to take responsibility following a diplomatic scandal.
“When I walk out of the Executive Yuan today, I will no longer be involved in politics. Everyone more or less knows how this makes me feel,” Chiou said when asked about his state of mind as he resigned on May 6.
Kaohsiung City Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊), who steered Chiou into politics by encouraging him to campaign for the late dangwai democracy activist Kuo Yu-hsin (郭雨新) in 1975, said: “For Chiou, quitting politics and the DPP is the severest punishment.”
Chiou’s resignation came after a secretive deal involving two shady brokers and US$30 million in funds intended for the establishment of diplomatic relations with Papua New Guinea was botched, resulting in the disappearance of the funds from a Singapore bank account.
Chiou, in his former position as head of the National Security Council (NSC), was the instigator of the deal, which also led former vice minister of national defense Ko Cheng-heng (柯承亨) and former minister of foreign affairs James Huang (黃志芳) to resign in disgrace.
Some opposition lawmakers have alleged that the affair was in reality “a money laundering scheme in the guise of a diplomatic deal” set up by Chiou.
Those accusations were made on the basis of a sequence of mistakes such as Chiou’s failure to request background and reliability checks by security agencies on the two brokers, as well as Huang’s ministry bypassing regular procedures for the appropriation of funds.
“Having middlemen involved in efforts to develop diplomatic ties is unavoidable, but [officials] cannot act on trust alone,” former minister of foreign affairs Chen Chien-jen (程建人) said.
Loh I-cheng (陸以正), a retired diplomat, said he did not understand how the Ministry of Foreign Affairs could have remitted the money to a joint account rather than open an escrow account with all payments contingent on the establishment of relations between the two countries.
“The ministry might just as well have had one of its officials participate in the joint account,” Loh said.
All the irregularities, added to the fact that the country’s highest intelligence agency managed to get fooled by two brokers — whose shady past was no secret — made the story difficult to believe for Chiou’s opponents.
However, Chiou’s DPP allies, who gave him the sobriquet Laba — a Hoklo term meaning “trumpet,” quickly came to his defense.
Chiou earned that nickname during the dangwai era, as what he thought and said about things was always accepted by groups, which underscored his influence in the DPP.
But as Chen Chu said, Chiou’s friends believe the scandal was the result of Chiou’s “mistaken judgment” on the two brokers as well as his arm’s length decision-making style, in which he only oversees things from a general perspective and lets his subordinates work out the details.
“The thing about Chiou Laba, is that he loves power, but he has never shown an interest in money since I have known him,” aid Chen Chun-lin (陳俊麟), vice chairman of the Executive Yuan’s Research, Development and Evaluation Commission.
Chen Chun-lin, a member of the DPP’s disbanded New Tide faction, of which Chiou was a founder, said: “Chiou Laba knows he is smart enough. He has confidence in his capabilities and he wants to hold political power so that he can get things done.”