Prosecutors ask to detain five sitting, ex-lawmakers for bribery

08/01/2020 08:41 PM
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Top row (from left to right): Su Chen-ching, Liao Kuo-tung, and Hsu Yung-ming; Bottom row (from left to right): Chen Chao-ming and Chao Cheng-yu / CNA file photo
Top row (from left to right): Su Chen-ching, Liao Kuo-tung, and Hsu Yung-ming; Bottom row (from left to right): Chen Chao-ming and Chao Cheng-yu / CNA file photo

Taipei, Aug. 1 (CNA) Taipei prosecutors filed a motion Saturday to detain five former and incumbent lawmakers as part of an ongoing investigation into bribery allegations targeting six current and former legislators and their aides.

The Taipei Prosecutors Office was hoping to detain legislators Chen Chao-ming (陳超明) and Liao Kuo-tung (廖國棟) of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), Su Chen-ching (蘇震清) of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and New Power Party (NPP) Chairman Hsu Yung-ming (徐永明) over their involvement in a department store bribery case.

Prosecutors argued in court that detaining them was necessary because of the seriousness of the crimes and the possibility that the suspects could collude to destroy evidence or flee the country.

They suspect that the lawmakers have been taking bribes from former Pacific Distribution Investment Co. Chairman Lee Heng-lung (李恆隆) since 2013 to help Lee in his legal battle against the Far Eastern Group over ownership of the Pacific SOGO Department store chain.

In their motion Saturday, prosecutors also asked the court to detain Lee.

Later Saturday, the NPP said it has suspended Hsu, who served as a legislator from 2016 to 2020, as chairman of the party because of his alleged involvement in the case.

In a separate bribery case, prosecutors requested that independent lawmaker Chao Cheng-yu (趙正宇) be detained for allegedly taking bribes to help two funeral services providers obtain a piece of land that was part of a national park for private use.

Chao is said to have successfully pressured the Construction and Planning Agency to allow a cemetery to be built on the land, with former Su Chen-ching aide Kuo Ke-ming (郭克銘) allegedly serving as the middleman.

During a raid of Chao's home Friday, prosecutors found NT$9.2 million in cash in a bag, which is believed to be the bribe Kuo paid to the lawmaker on behalf of the two companies.

The raid was part of a nationwide action Friday to question the five lawmakers and former DPP legislator Mark Chen (陳唐山) and search their offices and homes over the bribery allegations.

Earlier Saturday, the 85-year-old Chen was released on NT$500,000 bail after being questioned on the Pacific SOGO Department Store case. He served as Taiwan's foreign minister from 2004 to 2006 and was also a three-term lawmaker.

The top aides of Chen Chao-ming, Su Chen-ching and Hsu Yung-ming were also each released on NT$100,000 bail after being questioned on the same case.

Before entering the Taipei District Prosecutors Office early Saturday, Lee denied he paid bribes to lawmakers, describing the money as a loan to Su, without elaborating.

According to prosecutors, Lee had been paying bribes to the five lawmakers at different times since 2013 to buy influence to help him retake ownership of Pacific SOGO, one of the most profitable department store chains in Taiwan.

Lee has been in a legal fight against Far Eastern Group Chairman Douglas Hsu (徐旭東) over SOGO's ownership since the early 2000s.

At the heart of the issue was whether Far Eastern's capital injection of NT$4.01 billion from 2002 to 2008 was proper and gave it ownership of the chain by making it the biggest shareholder.

It was later found both legal and illegal in different courts during a long legal battle. In the final verdict in 2013, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled the capital injections to be legal and that the Far Eastern Group was the chain's largest shareholder and rightful owner.

Prosecutors believe Lee's campaign to buy influence began after that ruling and has continued until today as he remained determined to fight for ownership of the lucrative property.

They suspect the alleged bribes paid since 2013 have been used to lobby the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) to amend Company Act clauses on capital increases and make them retroactive so that his company could maintain control of Pacific SOGO.

In 2019, Lee sold part of his shares in Pacific Distribution Investment Co. to a new company to continue his legal pursuit of the department store under the new company's name.

At that time, lawmakers received money from Lee to pressure the MOEA on his behalf, and they responded by holding a round of public hearings in December 2019 to pressure the MOEA to change the Company Act to help Lee's cause, according to prosecutors.

Prosecutors believe that Su's former aide Kuo, who now runs a political consulting company, was one of the two middlemen responsible for delivering bribes to lawmakers and their assistants on behalf of Lee.

Su is accused of taking NT$20 million in bribes since 2013 while the other lawmakers took bribes ranging from tens of thousands of Taiwan dollars to NT$2 million, according to prosecutors.

The other middleman was Weng Hua-li (翁華利), president of the Taoyuan-based Tonlin Plaza Department Store, who was released on NT$2 million bail Saturday after being questioned.

Also questioned in the case and later released on NT$500,000 bail was Lee's older sister, accountant Lee Hsiu-feng (李秀峰).

In the cemetery case involving Chao Cheng-yu, the heads of the two funeral services providers surnamed Chung (鍾) and Chen (陳) were released on NT$1 million and NT$300,000 bail Saturday.

In addition, the chief of the Yangmingshan National Park Management Office surnamed Liu (劉) was released on NT$50,000 bail and could face charges of dereliction of duty, according to prosecutors.

(By Lin Chang-shun and Joseph Yeh)

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