U.S. forfeits properties of Taiwan's former first family

Washington, Nov. 14 (CNA) The United States Department of Justice said Wednesday it has forfeited two U.S. properties allegedly purchased with bribery funds by the family of former Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian. The properties -- a condominium in Manhattan and a residence in Keswick, Virginia with a combined value of approximately US$2.1 million -- were acquired by Chen's family through a British Virgin Islands shell company, according to a statement released by the department. The purchases were allegedly made with proceeds from a bribe of NT$200 million (US$6 million) accepted by former first lady Wu Shu-jen from Yuanta Securities Co. in 2004, the statement said. The properties were registered under the name of her son Chen Chih-chung. "The former president of Taiwan's family allegedly accepted millions in bribes in exchange for official action favoring Yuanta Securities, and we have now taken possession of two valuable properties purchased with their alleged spoils," said U.S. Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department's Criminal Division. According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton, the action is part of a continued effort by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents to identify, locate and seize properties and accounts in the United States belonging to Chen and his family. "HSI will continue to find and seize the U.S. assets of foreign corrupt officials who try to use our country to conceal the illicit proceeds and profits of their crimes," Morton said. In Taiwan, Chen Hung-ta, spokesman for the Special Investigation Division under the Supreme Prosecutors Office, said Taiwan has been maintaining judicial cooperation with Washington and will further negotiate with U.S. authorities on matters related to the disposal of the former first family's assets in the United States. Chen Chih-chung, meanwhile, insisted that the two properties were purchased with legal source funds and described the U.S. decision to forfeit them as "strange." Chen Chih-chung said his lawyer is currently helping to deal with the case. The former president has been sentenced to consecutive jail terms of 18.5 years, and his wife to 19 years and two months, for bribe taking, money laundering and influence peddling in connection with a land acquisition scheme, the appointment of a Taipei 101 chairwoman, and an exhibition hall construction project. They were also fined a total of NT$314 million in all the convictions. The couple has also been accused of taking bribes from several financial holding companies, including Yuanta, to help with the enterprises' bids to acquire smaller banks. The trial of that case is still in progress. (By Tony Liao, Justin Su, Liu Shih-yi and Y.F. Low)