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President approves resignation of Academia Sinica head (update)

2016/05/10 16:05:23

Academia Sinica President Wong Chi-huey (left / CNA file photo).

Taipei, May 10 (CNA) President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has approved the resignation of Academia Sinica President Wong Chi-huey (翁啟惠), effective immediately, amid controversy over Wong's handling of his relationship with biotech company OBI Pharma Inc. (浩鼎), the Presidential Office said Tuesday.

Office spokesman Charles Chen (陳以信) said Ma sent Tseng Yung-chuan (曾永權), secretary-general of the Presidential Office, to inform Wong that the president had accepted Wong's resignation, which was submitted on March 29.

Tseng also handed Wong Ma's letter to explain his decision.

Ma said in the letter that he made the decision "to uphold the reputation of Academia Sinica and to meet public expectations," according to the text of the letter, which the Presidential Office released to the media.

In line with past practice, Ma designated one of Academia Sinica's three vice presidents to take Wong's place until the research institution's next president is named and takes office.

The president said in the letter that the public and the Legislature have been concerned about Wong's alleged involvement in the OBI Pharma case over the past three months.

Ma said more recent reports, published after prosecutors summoned Wong for questioning and searched his office last month, indicated that many people felt Wong should step down.

Ma noted President-elect Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said that "Wong's resignation should be respected," and former Academia Sinica head Lee Yuan-tseh (李遠哲) said "Wong should step down and be subject to an investigation."

Parties across the political spectrum also felt Wong should step down immediately in view of the judicial investigation so that the institution could return to normal, Ma said in his letter to Wong.

The OBI Pharma case emerged in the spotlight in late March.

Wong had been criticized for speaking positively about a breast cancer drug being developed by the biotechnology company after the results of its Phase 2/3 trial, announced on Feb. 21, did not live up to expectations.

But the criticism became more intense when it was discovered that his daughter was a major shareholder in OBI Pharma. There was also speculation Wong was involved in insider trading of the firm's shares.

Wong was in the U.S. at the time and eventually faxed his resignation on March 29. Ma, however, urged Wong to return to Taiwan and report on the issue to the Legislature before a decision would be made.

After Wong returned on April 15, he reported to the Presidential Office to explain misgivings about the alleged insider trading.

He also reported to the Legislature on April 18 and 27 and said he returned to "face the matter honestly" and would "stick to his post until the last minute."

During a second meeting with President Ma on April 25, Wong handed a letter to the president to express his stance, but did not offer to resign.

Insisting he did not engage in insider trading, Wong said that he would have a deputy handle important administrative affairs at Academia Sinica and was willing to hand over his work before October, when his second five-year term expires.

President Ma told him that this fell short of "public expectations" and asked him to seriously reconsider the matter.

The government-sponsored Academia Sinica is under the direct administrative supervision of the Office of the President.

Since Wong's daughter was identified as a shareholder in OBI Pharma, the Academia Sinica president has faced further allegations and been listed by prosecutors as a potential defendant, meaning he is being formally investigated.

Wong himself eventually admitted that he sold some of his daughter's shares in OBI Pharma just days before the company announced its subpar trial results for the breast cancer drug, but said he did not have prior knowledge of the trial results and was not involved in insider trading.

Prosecutors also suspect that the 3 million OBI Pharma shares received by Wong's daughter before the company went public may have been related to the help Wong provided in arranging technical cooperation between Academia Sinica and OBI Pharma, much of it related to Wong's expertise.

Wong also said at the Legislature on April 27 that aside from his daughter's shares, he had other funds indirectly invested in OBI Pharma.

He said he put some funds into a trust operated by OBI Pharma Chairman Michael Chang (張念慈), who has also been listed as a possible defendant in the case.

"Chang invested my funds in two companies, which to my knowledge did not include OBI Pharma, but I later found out that the two companies had investments in OBI Pharma," Wong said. He also acknowledged that he had made "some profits" from his OBI Pharma shares.

(By Clauida Liu and Lilian Wu)