Taipei, Feb. 17 (CNA) Interior Minister Yeh Jiunn-rong (葉俊榮) said on Friday the ministry will prioritize "openness" and "transparency" as it scrutinizes the financial affairs of the National Women's League of the Republic of China.
Explaining the ministry's decision to audit the league, founded by the late Soong May-ling (宋美齡), also known as Madame Chiang Kai-shek in 1950, Yeh said that it was recognized the league played an historical role, but the government has the right to ask it to provide open and transparent financial records.
"This is an extremely basic requirement," he told reporters after being asked about remarks made by Cecilia Koo (辜嚴倬雲), head of the Women's League, in an interview with a local newspaper the previous day, in which she suggested the organization was being unjustly targeted.
The political party ran the ROC government in Taiwan from 1949 to 2000, when it lost power to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and then in 2008-2016 before being defeated by the DPP again in the presidential election on Jan. 16, 2016.
The Women's League drew media attention after it was revealed the group had failed to provide the Ministry of the Interior with financial documents as requested amid allegations that it has long relied on donations from state institutions such as the military.
Yeh stressed that any civic groups that receives government subsidies or donations from the public, must be overseen. "This is (the government's) standard attitude toward civic organizations," he said.
On Koo's comments, Presidential Office spokesman Alex Huang (黃重諺) said the investigation was aimed at determining whether the Women's League is an affiliate of the KMT, which is part of the government's efforts to promote "transitional justice."
Such a probe "does not target certain individuals or political parties and has nothing to do with political struggle," Huang said.
The 91 year-old Koo, wife of late Koo Chen-fu (辜振甫), who was one of the richest tycoons in Taiwan and served as chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), reiterated that the Women's League is not affiliated to the KMT.
Cecilia Koo said in the media interview that the Women's League was founded to take care of the poor, the sick and those unable to help themselves.
Initially, the foundation focused on helping military personnel and their families, after they relocated to Taiwan with the ROC government from mainland China in 1949, with work that included building dormitories, she said.
The funds the league was given for such construction work and looking after war orphans were donations from the Importers and Exporters Association of Taipei, not as some suggest "a surcharge" donated by the military for the league's assistance, she said.
The Women's League spent all the money it received from donations on building dormitories for soldiers and their families as well as an orphanage for children who lost their parents in the war, said the chairwoman.
"The league helped the country cultivate talented individuals, helped with disaster relief, floods and fires, and taught military dependents handcraft skills," she noted.
The league "never misappropriated one cent of the money it received from the public" and "I have never pocketed one cent," said Koo.
Although the Women's League is "rich," that is because she was married to Koo Chen-fu, a successful businessman who helped the league invest wisely before his decease in 2005, Celicila Koo said.
Asked about the government's audit, Koo said the league has fully cooperated and been working to locate financial records that date back to its founding, Koo said.
Also on Friday, Shih Chin-fang (施錦芳), spokeswoman of the Cabinet-level Ill-Gotten Party Assets Settlement Committee, said the committee discovered that counting only fixed deposit accounts at local banks, the Women's League has a fortune of nearly NT$37 billion (US$1.2 billion).
The foundation receives bank interest payments of more than NT$300 million a year, Shih said. On top of which it receives in excess of NT$200 annually in dividends from stocks it holds.
"It is difficult to image an ordinary non-governmental organization with such massive assets," she said, adding that the government will try to determine how the Women's League came to have such assets.
The Ill-Gotten Party Assets Settlement Committee was set up in August 2016 based on the Statute on Handling the Inappropriate Assets of Political Parties and Their Affiliated Organizations. The statute was enacted by the DPP-dominated Legislative Yuan in July the same year.
Under the law, most of the KMT's properties have been frozen pending investigations by the committee into the assets held by the veteran political party. If the assets are determined to be "ill-gotten," they will be transferred to the state or returned to their rightful owners.
The Women's League came under the microscope after allegations it illegally profited from close ties to the KMT and the KMT-led government in Taiwan.
(By Liu Kuan-ting, Ku Chuan and Elizabeth Hsu)