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Taiwan denies irregularities in U.S. lawmaker's visit

2012/05/14 15:54:37

Taipei, May 14 (CNA) The Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday denied that there were any irregularities pertaining to a visit to Taiwan last year by U.S. Congressman Bill Owens.

The ministry followed the relevant rules for hosting foreign dignitaries who are visiting to strengthen bilateral ties, Foreign Minister Timothy Yang said at a hearing in the Legislature's Foreign and National Defense Committee.

Some U.S. lawmakers, such as Owens, also visit Taiwan at the invitation of private institutions, Yang said in response to questions on the issue by opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators.

Owens and his wife visited Taiwan Dec. 28, 2011 on a four-day trip, which was paid for by the Taipei-based Chinese Culture University, according to U.S. media.

However, a report in the U.S. media on May 10 said that lobbyists from the New York firm Park Strategies that works for the Taiwan government had organized the trip.

This violated Congressional ethics rules that prohibit members from participating in trips arranged by lobbyists, according to the report that was co-published by independent news organization ProPublica and the news website Politico.

The day after the report appeared, Owens offered to reimburse the Taiwan university the US$22,132 spent on his trip to Taiwan last December, but he insisted that the visit did not break any rules, Politico said.

"In an abundance of caution, and to avoid any question about the purpose of the travel, which was to bring jobs to New York, or about whether it was appropriate for the sponsor to pay for its costs, I am reimbursing the sponsor personally for the full value of the trip," Owens was quoted by Politico as saying in a prepared statement.

In an interview with North Country Public Radio on May 11, Owens acknowledged that the first impetus for this specific trip "came from Park Strategies."

Meanwhile, DPP lawmaker Tsai Huang-liang asked why Owens did not meet any representatives from Chinese Culture University since it was the university that invited him.

But Bruce Linghu, director-general of the foreign ministry's Department of North American Affairs, said Owens did meet with the dean of the university to promote bilateral exchanges.

Owens' visit to Taiwan was fully in line with legal procedures, Linghu told the local media on the sidelines of the committee meeting.

(By Elaine Hou)