Friday, February 5, 2010

Taiwan ex-Foreign Minister in Singapore court over Papua New Guinea scandal

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Former Foreign Minister James Huang appeared at the Singapore High Court Monday to give testimony in the trial against a man accused of embezzling US$29.8 million (NT$1 billion) from Taiwan to help establish diplomatic relations with Papua New Guinea.
Self-styled diplomatic brokers Charles Ching and Wu Shih-tsai persuaded Huang’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to pay them the sum in September 2006 in return for persuading Papua New Guinea to sever relations with Beijing and recognize Taiwan instead.

The diplomatic switch did not materialize but the money disappeared from the brokers’ accounts. Ching was believed to be hiding in China or North America while Wu was detained in Taiwan in 2008. He was sentenced to two years and four months for forgery and defamation.

Huang told reporters in Singapore Monday he was appearing in court as a witness and would do his utmost in Taiwan’s interest. Nobody at MOFA ever worked on the deal for personal profit. All they had in mind was to win a new diplomatic ally for Taiwan, Huang said.

An attorney for Ching said the defendant was willing to address the court through videoconferencing from California during the five days of hearings.

Attorneys for Taiwan’s MOFA agreed to the request after discussions with court officials.

According to Singapore court practice, the plaintiffs will first be heard. Apart from Huang, former MOFA adviser Chang Chiang-sheng and current Taiwan representative in the Philippines Donald Lee will also testify. Li headed MOFA’s Department for Asia Pacific Affairs at the time. The court will hear the defendants later in the proceedings, reports said.

The scandal erupted during the final days of the administration of former President Chen Shui-bian in 2008, and led to the resignation of Huang and of Vice Premier Chiou I-jen, who had been at the origin of the idea to mobilize diplomatic brokers when he was secretary-general of the National Security Council.

Both men were later also impeached by the Control Yuan, the top government watchdog body. Huang and Chiou insisted they were trying to improve Taiwan’s international standing and were not after personal enrichment through the deal. Prosecutors are reportedly still investigating allegations of corruption by Taiwanese officials in the deal.

Taiwan and China have long tried to take away each other’s diplomatic allies in what some critics described as “dollar diplomacy.”

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