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Nantou magistrate temporarily relieved of duties after being detained

2012/11/30 20:47:17

Taipei, Nov. 30 (CNA) Nantou County Magistrate Lee Chao-ching has been relieved of his duties after being detained Friday on suspicion of accepting kickbacks related to post-typhoon reconstruction projects.

The Nantou District Court on Friday granted a request by prosecutors to detain Lee because of the serious nature of the case and the possibility of collusion with other witnesses were he to be released on bail.

After a long probe, investigators raided nine locations Thursday, including Lee's office and his residence.

Following the raids, Lee was brought in for questioning but denied any knowledge of a tea gift box containing NT$300,000 (US$10,320) in cash that investigators found in his office during the raid and suspected to be part of the bribes Lee allegedly received.

Lee was turned over to the Prosecutors Office Thursday night, and his detention hearing was held Friday morning.

After the court ruled that Lee be detained, the Ministry of the Interior suspended his duties as county magistrate according to the Local Government Act and said that Deputy Magistrate Chen Chih-ching will take over on his behalf.

Lee will be reinstated if the reasons for his detention are no longer valid and he is released, the ministry said.

Prosecutors said the case involves numerous road reconstruction projects in 2011 and 2012 handled by the Nantou County government in the remote Hsinyi, Jenai and Shuili townships.

Lee, in collaboration with other officials, is suspected of limiting the number of bidders for each tender to ensure the projects were awarded to designated contractors in exchange for bribes of between 10 and 15 percent of the construction costs, according to investigators.

Hung Chia-yuan, acting chief prosecutor in Nantou County, said that in the first round of raids on Nov. 7, prosecutors asked the court to detain three of more than 20 people questioned.

Among them, contractor Wu Chung-chi admitted that he bribed officials, and NT$2.4 million in cash intended for that purpose was seized in his residence.

Huang Rong-teh, the head of Nantou's public works department who divided up the bribes, allegedly coordinated the bribes with the contractors, while Lee's secretary, Chang Chih-yi was authorized to rig the tenders to allow specified contractors to win, prosecutors said.

Lee allegedly instructed Huang and Chang to collect bribes, which prosecutors suspect totaled NT$10 million.

Meanwhile, the Kuomintang said it has suspended Lee's rights to take part in its activities. Lee is a member of the ruling party.

The opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) urged the government to review reconstruction projects across Taiwan.

DPP spokesman Wang Min-sheng said reconstruction projects are related to people's lives, yet local chiefs such as Lee seem more interested in using funds for those projects to line their pockets.

He urged the government to conduct a thorough probe to ease public misgivings about how such funds are spent.

(By Lin Heng-li, Kelven Huang, Sophia Yeh and Lilian Wu)