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Ethics committee continues probe into Owens’s 2011 Taiwan trip

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An ethics investigation into a 2011 trip to Taiwan by Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, and his wife is continuing following the refusal of several people associated with the trip to cooperate with the Office of Congressional Ethics.

The alleged ethics violation stems from a Dec. 27, 2011, to Jan. 1, 2012, trip to Taiwan that Mr. Owens claims was part of an effort to attract the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. to come to Marcy, just outside the 21st Congressional District, to build a factory.

According to a report prepared by Mr. Owens’s counsel, Brian G. Svoboda and Jonathan S. Berkon, the trip was sponsored by the Chinese Culture University in Taiwan.

But in a report released Wednesday, the Office of Congressional Ethics said the trip was paid for and organized by the Taiwanese government, in violation of Congressional ethics rules.

“The OCE Board finds that there is substantial reason to believe that Representative Owens accepted payment of travel expenses for an officially connected trip to Taiwan from an impermissible sponsor, resulting in an impermissible gift, in violation of federal law and House rules,” the report said.

The report notes that the trip was originally organized by the Taiwanese government through its foreign agent, the U.S.-based lobbying firm Park Strategies. But when Mr. Owens wanted to bring his wife along on the trip, it became apparent that the trip could not be paid for by the Taiwanese government, according to congressional ethics rules.

The ethics report said the Taiwanese government began looking for a private sponsor for the trip, although it continued to plan the trip and, although the Chinese Culture University finally was cited as the official sponsor, the Taiwanese government initially paid for Mr. Owens’s travel expenses.

“Because Representative Owens’ trip to Taiwan was organized, conducted, and initially paid for by the government of Taiwan, the Chinese Culture University was not a permissible sponsor of the trip,” the report said.

In addition to these findings, the report said the Chinese Culture University and Park Strategies founder and managing director Alfonse M. D’Amato, a former U.S. senator, Senior Vice President Sean King and Vice President John Zagame all have refused to cooperate with the investigation.

Taken together, the ethics report said their refusal amounts to a “substantial reason to believe that the alleged violation occurred.”

Mr. Owens, in a prepared statement Wednesday, maintained his innocence and his expectation that the allegations eventually will be dismissed.

Mr. Owens said that after it came to light that an ethical violation may have occurred, he personally reimbursed the Chinese Culture University for $22,132.20 on May 21.

“I hold myself and my office to the highest of ethical standards,” Mr. Owens said. “Which is why, in abundance of caution, I have already personally reimbursed the sponsor of the trip for the cost.”

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