Taiwan’s checkbook diplomacy was spotlighted this week with the revelation that the Taiwan government was giving out money in little brown bags from the back door to anyone who said they could buy a government…..

“I don’t know if the money went to Papua New Guinea,” Huang added.

Chiou said the affair began when an unidentified friend introduced him to Ching as the man who could deliver Papua New Guinea to the Taiwanese diplomatic column. He said that, after he introduced Ching to Huang, they decided to go ahead with efforts to try to persuade the Pacific nation to abandon Beijing.

Citing papers that the Taiwanese government filed last month in a Singapore court, Lianhe Zaobao reported that Taipei authorized Ching and Wu to act as intermediaries with the Papua New Guinea authorities in September 2006, and that it wired $29.8 million into an account they controlled.

Why $30 million? I’d have been willing to do it for $10 million….and just think, if he had handed back $25 million, he probably could have kept $5 million and said he had spread a few bribes around but nothing had come of it. Then nobody would be chasing him. And $30 million is a ridiculous sum — you can buy a Pacific Island government for a third of that figure, I’ve heard.

Couple of observations. First, the KMT had been coming under scrutiny for the split in its ranks over the appointment of a TSU legislator as head of the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC). Suddenly all that public discussion of the party’s dirty laundry has been blotted out by a new scandal about the DPP.

My, that’s convenient timing. Especially since this little time bomb has been sitting around since September of 2006 — through two cycles of legislative budget reviews, and nobody asked a single question?

Second, the stupidity of wiring $30 million to a private account with zero oversight or controls is replicated every day all over Taiwan, and elsewhere in the world, in perfectly ordinary scams where greed causes the mark to wire money to some account somewhere, where it disappears faster than you can say “Nigerian Scam.” This is just an ordinary scam blown up to galactic scale, with the marks out there saying lamely “but I trusted him!”

As always, what’s interesting is what isn’t happening — no oversight by the KMT-dominated legislature, no accountability in the DPP-led executive, and nobody in any high office there pointing out what an incredibly stupid idea it must have been. The Taipei Times, which had a long piece devoted to it today, observed:

In August 2006, the 56-year-old Wu, a Singaporean, and his partner, Ching, were commissioned by the ministry and then-National Security Council (NSC) secretary-general Chiou to act as intermediaries in attempts to help Taiwan forge diplomatic relations with Papua New Guinea.

Officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Security Council knew. Also in the know: the Accounting Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And I find it hard to believe that nobody in Accounting told their pal in the legislative office: “hey, ya know we just wired a bushel of green to some account in Singapore for some thing with PNG.” The Taipei Times went on to report:

Meanwhile, ministry spokeswoman Phoebe Yeh (葉非比) said the ministry had agreed to set up the joint account in Ching and Wu;s name because the Papuan government had requested that the funds be wired via the joint account as a display of Taiwan’s “sincerity.”

Asked if it was legal for the ministry to wire money to such an account, Yang Te-chuan (楊德川), comptroller of the ministry’s accounting department, said his office could not reject or inquire about the ministry’s decision to remit money as long as the decision was approved by the minister.

Yeh said the ministry did not know how much money was left in the account because Wu’s answers to the ministry’s inquiries were inconsistent.

She said Wu had provided bank statements at the end of last July showing that all the funds remained in the account.

He made the same claim to the ministry earlier this year, Yeh said.

However, Wu gave the ministry an emergency notice in the middle of March, saying that there was only US$2,000 left in the account and admitting that he had surrendered his rights to the account to Ching in February last year, Yeh said.

I love the way Accounting said anything is legal if the Minister says it is legal! Don’t look in here! Nobody here but us accountants….

And speaking of foreign relations success, how about those Taiwanese businessmen spying in China? The LA Times had a piece by Mark Magnier on how they’ve allegedly been hung out to dry by the Taiwan government.

Song learned that he had been one of 36 Taiwanese businessman “spies” arrested about the same time and sentenced to as long as 15 years in prison. The roundup apparently was aimed at humiliating Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian, who in late 2003 had angered Beijing by introducing a referendum on whether China should remove its then-496 missiles aimed at Taiwan. The two sides split in 1949 during a civil war.

Once back in Taipei, Song met with an agent from the Military Intelligence Bureau, who advised him to keep quiet. The agent seemed sympathetic until Song brought up the issue of compensation, at which point the conversation ended.

Could’ve used that $30 million….

UPDATE: Mick rips me in the comments below:

You fail to mention that the DPP has less than a month left, is it not quite probable in the likelihood of a change of administration such an oversight of monies would eventually come out and that this was the precursor of events. Firstly, trying legally to require the money, then the Singapore media reporting on it, and finally the issue being discussed here.

Sorry man. No doubt I’m just paranoid. But I’m always curious why things come out at particular times, as opposed to others.

UPDATE II: Ma was briefed April 10, and the order to get the money back was given by Chen Shui-bian, according to James Huang in this CNA report.

Hat tip to my man Mark Forman for the title of the piece.