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PNG Prime Minister denied any involvement

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, May 12, 2008) - Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare met Taiwanese Foreign Affairs Minister James Huang when he was in Singapore for his medical check-up last year.

A journalist from the China Times South East Asia bureau confirmed this during the Opposition press conference at the Leader of the Opposition, Sir Mekere Morauta’s residence in Port Moresby yesterday.

Journalist Liang Dong-Ping said Mr. Huang confirmed this minutes before he stepped down from office after the revelation of the PGK82.6 million [US$31 million] diplomatic scandal involving two middlemen of Chinese ethnicity and two Papua New Guineans in 2006.

This revelation comes a week after the two government departments, that of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Affairs, denied any knowledge of the diplomacy scandal or any involvement in the so-called failed Taiwanese and PNG bilateral relationship.

The chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and Member for Nawae Timothy

[PIR editor’s note: Papua New Guinea has recognized the People’s Republic of China over its competitor for diplomatic recognition among the Pacific island nations, Taiwan. The US$31 million in question reportedly was entrusted to the "middlemen" as a tool to persuade PNG to switch its allegiance to Taiwan. The two Chinas have poured many millions of dollars into the region in an effort to gain sole recognition by the United Nations.]

Bonga and private lawyer Florain Gubon, also caught up in reports of the scandal which mentioned the two Papua New Guineans having allegedly asked for PGK55 million [US$21 million] before any bilateral relationship could be established, have so far denied the claims.

Only the Minister for National Planning Paul Tiensten has admitted meeting with one of the middlemen involved in the scandal in PNG. The money was deposited into a joint bank account with the Overseas Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC) belonging to the two who allegedly defrauded the Foreign Ministry.

The Opposition said the Government had to come clean on this and tell the people of PNG what had happened and how it happened since it was becoming interesting when the people named were linked to Sir Michael’s ruling National Alliance Party (NA).

"Like Taiwanese, we are keen to know whether Mr. Bonga and Dr. Gubon, as shown in the picture in one of the dailies, went with the authority from the Government as the picture sees many stories in it," Opposition Leader Sir Mekere Morauta said.

He said the Chief had to come out and tell the people everything since it was surprising as both were not parliamentarians but had access to Taiwanese Government officials.

"Whether you’re a chief executive officer or not, it is protocol that the government in any country must authorize any person or persons to act on behalf of the government for that matter,’’ he said.

Member for Imbonggu Francis Awesa said the country was aware Bonga talked to Japan about a sewerage system in Port Moresby and there was no reason why he would go to Taiwan for sewerage and water bottling.

"I don’t care if Bonga went to Taiwan for water bottling...the fact is, someone authorized him to seek on behalf of PNG," Mr. Awesa said.

Mr. Huang and the Deputy Premier Chiou I-jen reportedly stepped down from office last week. The money disappeared when two ethnic Chinese acted as middlemen, claiming they could help Taiwan broker diplomatic ties with PNG.

One of the two men is missing and the second is banned from leaving Taiwan while the investigations are conducted by prosecutors.

The man banned from leaving Taiwan has a brother who is a PNG citizen and was once involved with the late Sir Bill Skate in 1999 when he was the Prime Minister in trying to upgrade the bilateral relationship between PNG and Taiwan.

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