Sao Tome president dismisses health minister amid scandal

SAO TOME Fri Jan 3, 2014 8:37am EST

SAO TOME Jan 3 (Reuters) - Sao Tome's President Manuel Pinto da Costa dismissed Health Minister Leonel Pontes amid a scandal over the misuse of development funding from Taiwan, according to a presidential decree published on Friday.

On Thursday, Sao Tome's main opposition party - Independent Democratic Action (ADI) - accused the minister of using funding from Taiwan for his ministry for personal use.

ADI said the minister made use of $700 himself, and channelled another $1000 to his wife and a brother, living in Angola.

Pontes told journalists he had tendered his resignation ahead of the presidential decree to ensure political stability and the good of the nation.

He admitted the payments but denied any wrongdoing, saying that Sao Tome law allowed ministers to pay relatives for services rendered to the ministry.

Sao Tome is one of the few African nations - including Burkina Faso and Swaziland - that recognise Taiwan, which China formally regards as a renegade province to be recovered by force if necessary.

Sao Tome officials said in November that China would open a trade mission to promote projects there, 16 years after it broke off diplomatic relations. (Reporting by Ricardo Neto; Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Emma Farge)

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