Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Taiwan: Four lawmakers indicted on bribery charges

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Taiwan – Four legislators and one former lawmaker were indicted by Taipei prosecutors Monday for receiving bribes.

The lawmakers indicted for alleged violations of the Anti-Corruption Act included Chen Chao-ming (陳超明) and Liao Kuo-tung (廖國棟) of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT); independent lawmaker Chao Cheng-yu (趙正宇); Su Chen-ching (蘇震清) of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and former New Power Party legislator Hsu Yung-ming (徐永明).

All of the lawmakers except for Chao were indicted for allegedly taking bribes from former Pacific Distribution Investment Co. Chairman Lee Heng-lung (李恆隆) to help Lee in his legal battle against the Far Eastern Group over ownership of the Pacific SOGO Department store chain, according to the Taipei District Prosecutors Office.

According to prosecutors, Lee has made payments to the lawmakers at different times since 2013 to buy influence and help him retake ownership of Pacific SOGO, one of the most profitable department store chains in Taiwan.

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Lee has been engaged in a legal battle with 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 largest shareholder.

Over a legal battle lasting many years, it was found legal and illegal by different courts.

However, in the final verdict in 2013, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled the capital injections to be legal and that the Far Eastern Group was therefore the chain’s largest shareholder and rightful owner.

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Prosecutors suspect the bribes allegedly paid since 2013 have been used to pressure the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) to amend the Company Act (公司法) 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 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 Ke-ming (郭克銘), who now runs a political consulting company, served as the middleman responsible for delivering bribes to lawmakers and their assistants on Lee’s behalf.

Prosecutors aid Su took more than NT$25.8 million (US$860,000) of bribery money from Lee, while Liao took NT$7.9 million and Chen NT$1 million.

Meanwhile, Chao was indicted in a separate case in which he allegedly took bribes from two funeral services companies to pressure the Construction and Planning Agency to allow a cemetery to be built on a piece of land that was part of a national park, prosecutors said.

Chao is said to have successfully pressured the Construction and Planning Agency to allow a cemetery to be built on the land after changing the zoning of the land to make it available for private use.

During a raid of Chao’s home in Taoyuan’s Bade District, 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.

Aside from the five incumbent legislators and ex-lawmaker, prosecutors on Monday also indicted Lee, Kuo and four of the lawmakers’ aides, as well as Trend Survey and Research Company General Manager Wu Shih-chang (吳世昌), who is accused of helping Lee hold public hearings.

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