THE supreme court of Singapore ruled this week in favour of a request from Taiwan to retrieve a total of US$29.8 million embezzled by two middlemen and kept in a Singapore bank account following a 2006 scam.
In the fraud case, the Taiwanese authorities were persuaded by the two men to part with the cash in return for supposed diplomatic relations with Papua New Guinea.
Since the scandal was made public, allegations have surfaced that some of the money may have already been paid to PNG individuals and politicians to win support for Taiwan.
A number of PNG individuals and politicians have admitted travelling to Taiwan and Singapore, but denied receiving the money or holding talks with individuals connected with this scam.
Taiwan’s ministry of foreign affairs (MOFA) under the administration of former president Chen Shui-bian wired the money to an account at Singapore’s OCBC Bank jointly held by the two brokers, Ching Chi-ju, a Taiwanese with an American passport, and Wu Shih-tsai, a Singaporean, as funds in return for forging diplomatic relations between Taiwan and PNG.
The MOFA asked Wu and Ching for a statement of account early 2008 after finding that as of Dec 1, 2006, the money in the joint account had disappeared without any progress having been made on the initiative with PNG.
Wu, without knowing that the MOFA was already aware of the fraud, produced a false bank statement from his own notebook computer and gave it to the ministry.
He was arrested by the Taiwanese authorities when the scandal came to light at the end of
Chen’s second term in 2008, but Ching managed to flee to the United States.
Wu was sentenced to 28 months in jail by a Taiwanese court late that year for making a false bank statement and is now serving his time in a Taipei prison.
The foreign ministry filed a civil suit with the Singapore supreme court via Taiwan’s representative office in 2008 against Wu and Ching, demanding repayment of the sum in full.
In a previous ruling handed down in May, the court said Taiwan was entitled to recover all the funds illegally kept by the two brokers, but it allowed the defendants to appeal.
Chen Shou-han, a division chief with the MOFA’s department of treaty and legal affairs who represented the ministry at the court session, praised the ruling as “belated justice” and said his ministry would do its best to make sure all the stolen funds were returned to the national coffers.
So far, about US$6 million of the total has been retrieved, including properties bought by Wu in Taipei.