Ministry clarifies role in Owens’ trip

IMPROPER FAVORS?:Since US congressional members are important foreign guests, TECRO provided administrative and protocol assistance, the ministry said

Staff writer, with CNA

Sat, Feb 09, 2013 - Page 3

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday denied that it offered any improper favors to US Representative Bill Owens during a trip to Taiwan more than a year ago.

The statement came after the US House Committee on Ethics announced in Washington on Wednesday that it would continue an ongoing investigation of Owens and the trip, while stressing that the move “does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred.”

The committee is investigating whether the trip Owens and his wife took to Taipei from Dec. 27, 2011, to Jan. 1 last year was organized and paid for by the Taiwanese government and its US-based lobbyist at the time, Park Strategies.

The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) said in a report released on Wednesday that there was “substantial reason to believe” Owens violated US House rules prohibiting lawmakers from taking trips that are paid for by lobbyists.

Ministry spokesman Steve Hsia (夏季昌) rejected the allegations, saying the Owens were invited to visit Taiwan by the Chinese Culture University, which paid for his transportation and hotel fees.

Owens had secured OCE approval before visiting Taiwan, Hsia said, while acknowledging that the government did offer Owens logistical help.

Since US congressional members are considered important foreign guests, it is normal for the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) in the US to provide administrative and protocol assistance for their visits to Taiwan, he said.

“So it was not wrong for our representative office to help with hotel reservations for the Owenses,” Hsia said.

According to media reports in Taiwan, Owens returned US$22,000 to the Taiwanese government for the trip after suspected irregularities were reported.

Hsia said the money was then transferred to the Chinese Culture University.

However, according to the congressional newspaper The Hill, the OCE said in its report that it was the Taiwanese government that paid for the visit and that the OCE “was unable to determine whether the Chinese Culture University in turn reimbursed the Taiwan government for the cost of the trip.”

Taiwan’s representative office in Washington issued a statement on Wednesday stressing its strict observation of US laws and congressional rules in inviting US lawmakers to Taiwan.

The statement said that Owens not only received the OCE’s approval for his trip to Taiwan, but also completed follow-up legal requirements within 15 days after his trip.

Given Owens’ important status, the statement said, it was appropriate for Taiwan’s foreign ministry and its representative office in Washington to offer administrative assistance.

The Hill cited Owens as saying that he took the trip to meet with officials at Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp because the contract chipmaker was considering opening a facility in New York.