The government is checking with local shipbuilders to see if they can build a ship suitable for Kiribati after funds transferred from Taiwan to the Pacific nation for the vessel went missing, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday.
“We are trying to see if local shipbuilding companies can build a flat-bottom landing craft,” said Elliot Charng (常以立), director-general of the ministry’s Department of East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
Charng said the government is trying to help find a suitable boat supplier, but would not contribute more money for the project.
The ministry began to talk to domestic shipbuilding companies at the behest of lawmakers last month after news emerged that the financial assistance given by Taiwan to help Kiribati purchase a landing craft had disappeared, he said.
The lawmakers said that the situation could have been avoided had Taiwan donated a boat instead of giving money.
Kiribati has launched an investigation into the missing funds and Interpol has become involved, Charng said, describing the case as “Internet fraud.”
The investigation is still ongoing, but authorities have found where the account used in the scam is located, he said, citing information provided by Kiribati’s government earlier this month.
Charng declined to divulge further details, but he said the ministry would publicize the results of the investigation once they are available.
The ministry has said that Taiwan donated US$1.5 million to the nation of 100,000 people at a ceremony in January.
About US$500,000 went missing when Kiribati made payments to a contracted Philippine shipbuilding company, which was later found to be a scam, Charng said.
Kiribati’s government has the remaining funds and will have to find other financial sources to pay for the new craft on its own, he said.
The issue was brought to light when Radio New Zealand International reported in October that Taiwan was asking Kiribati to explain what had happened to the US$1.5 million in aid.
The Kiribati Independent reported that the Kiribati government said “the money was wired to an overseas account, but apparently not that of the boat builder.”
“The money has been stolen and there was nothing the government could do,” Kiribati’s commerce minister was quoted as saying in the report.
Taiwan has expressed concerns about the lost funds and has sought follow-up information from Kiribati, the ministry said.
Kiribati’s government has formed a task force to look into lapses in internal management of the money and will punish anyone found accountable, it said.
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