Trio takes blame for missing millions Three top Taiwanese officials have stepped down over a widening scandal in which a US$30 million fund supposed to be used to lure Papua New Guinea to switch recognition to Taipei from Beijing has gone missing. After their homes and offices were searched by prosecutors yesterday, Vice-Premier Chiou I-jen, Foreign Minister James Huang Chih-fang and Defence Vice-Minister Ko Cheng-heng resigned over the loss of the secret diplomatic fund in the scandal, which has further tarnished the image of outgoing President Chen Shui-bian's government. 'I feel deeply ashamed,' said Mr Chiou, who in 2006 instructed that Mr Huang work with a middleman in a bid to establish official ties with the Pacific island nation. 'I have trusted the wrong people and caused big damage and turmoil to the country. For this I am resigning from my post,' he said, referring to his trust of the middleman, identified as Ching Chi-ju, a Taiwanese businessman with a US passport who has disappeared with the money. Claiming he could help Taiwan forge official ties with the country, Mr Ching in 2006 approached Mr Chiou, who was then National Security Council secretary general, through Mr Ko, then deputy secretary general. Mr Chiou said he introduced Mr Ching to Mr Huang and asked the foreign minister to work with Mr Ching, who said his associate, Wu Shih-tsai, a Singaporean businessman, had connections with Papua New Guinea and could help forge bilateral ties for US$30 million. Without checking the credibility of the two, the foreign ministry hired them, only to find months later the funds it sent to the bank account the two set up in Singapore in September 2006 could not be retrieved. Mr Chiou, who quit the Democratic Progressive Party on Monday, said he decided to resign as vice-premier because he was listed as a defendant by prosecutors. He was listed as a graft defendant after prosecutors discovered that Mr Wu held a list that Taiwanese news media said related to distribution of kickbacks to seven officials, including Mr Chiou and Mr Huang. The reports, quoting unnamed prosecutors, said Mr Chiou allegedly received US$2 million in kickbacks, while Mr Huang and Mr Ko each took US$1 million. The three deny the allegation. Mr Huang insisted he was innocent, saying he had never taken a cent from the fund, or he would have collaborated with the middlemen by signing the so-called communique for establishment of formal ties. Mr Chen apologised to the public yesterday for the bungle.