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Women's League votes to overturn decision to donate assets

2018/01/31 16:55:57

Joanna Lei (雷倩, right)

Taipei, Jan. 31 (CNA) Delegates of the National Women's League (NWL) voted Wednesday not to sign an administrative contract with the government to donate 90 percent of its assets to the national coffers and submit to public oversight.

In a close 31-28 vote, with one void ballot, the meeting overturned a decision made by newly appointed NWL Chairwoman Joanna Lei (雷倩) to cooperate with the government.

The result of the vote is expected to cause the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government to put more pressure on the NWL, which the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) and the Ill-gotten Party Assets Settlement Committee is currently probing to see if it is an affiliated organization of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT).

That could come as soon as the following day, when the settlement committee is scheduled to meet on this issue.

The NWL decision also means that the NWL is likely to engage in a lengthy legal battle with the government.

Lei signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of the Interior and the Ill-gotten Party Assets Settlement Committee Dec. 29 last year, agreeing that the NWL is willing to donate NT$34.3 billion (US$1.17 billion) of its assets to the national coffers, that its four foundations will re-elect their boards of directors, and that the NWL will sign an administrative contract with the government within a month.

Following the vote, Lei said she expects to see "very intense" pressure from the government, saying she has already received notice that it will reopen an investigation into the NWL.

Interior Minister Yeh Jiunn-rong (葉俊榮) expressed strong regret in response to the result of Wednesday's vote, saying that his ministry will continue to guide the NWL in its transformation according to regulations, and will work with the Ill-gotten Party Assets Settlement Committee to address related matters.

At Thursday's meeting, should the settlement committee determine that the NWL is a KMT affiliate and all of its assets to be ill-gotten, the committee will prohibit the NWL from disposing of any of its property, a committee spokesman told CNA Tuesday.

Lei took the post in December after the MOI removed her predecessor, Cecilia Koo (辜嚴倬雲), for being uncooperative with the government's probe.

Although she did not attend Wednesday's meeting due to ill-health, Koo said in a statement that she is not opposed to making the operation of the NWL more transparent, as she has proposed to have accounting firms audit the organization's use of funds.

She said she was opposed to signing the contract only because the MOI and the Ill-gotten Party Assets Settlement Committee continued to threaten the NWL by claiming that it is a KMT affiliate, without providing concrete evidence.

The purpose of the league has always been to unite the nation's women to take care of military dependents, she said, adding that none of the NWL members have put funds into their own pockets.

In a statement issued after the vote, Koo asked the NWL to respect the decision of the delegates to not sign the administrative contract and to focus its energy on "independent transformation."

NWL Standing Committee member Pan Wei-kang (潘維剛) previously told local media that should the Wednesday meeting decide to overturn the assets donation decision, the NWL is confident that it can win administrative litigation to force the government to overturn its previous decision to replace Koo.

According to Koo's lawyer, Koo has an audio recording that shows the MOI has several times threatened NWL representatives during previous rounds of negotiations.

The NWL was established in 1950 by former first lady Soong Mei-ling (宋美齡), with its officials mainly composed of the wives of important military figures.

The group has come under scrutiny because of allegations that it illegally profited from close ties to the former ruling KMT, which is currently being investigated by the Ill-gotten Party Assets Settlement Committee.

An investigation by the committee found that the league collected more than NT$24 billion (US$790.66 million) in "donations for the military" between 1955 and 1989 through surcharges on imported and exported components and goods.

DPP legislative caucus whip Tsai Shih-ying (蔡適應)said the MOI and the settlement committee will proceed with the investigation in accordance with the law.

"Based on the law, the settle committee can take over or disband the National Women's League," said Tsai.

(By Joseph Yeh, Ko Lin and Christie Chen)