Nantou chief questioned in Taiwan typhoon reconstruction case

County officials and businessman detained over kickbacks

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Prosecutors summoned Nantou County Magistrate Lee Chao-ching for questioning Thursday over allegations of kickbacks in reconstruction projects after Typhoon Morakot.
The August 2009 storm caused hundreds of deaths and severe damage in large parts of Central and South Taiwan while delivering a serious blow to the image of President Ma Ying-jeou over his administration’s allegedly slow response.
Nantou County’s chief of public affairs, Huang Jung-te, and the department’s secretary received close to NT$10 million (US$340,000) in kickbacks for reconstruction projects in the townships of Hsinyi and Jenai, but some of the funds found their way to Lee, reports said.
The two officials and a businessman were already being held incommunicado Thursday, but prosecutors reportedly summoned seven people for questioning, including the county magistrate, who is a member of the ruling Kuomintang. Investigators also searched his office, reports said.
Local Ministry of Justice agents reportedly listened in to conversations and shadowed county officials, finding out that Huang and his aides often had lunch at the same engineering consultancy. The company was reportedly involved in the setting up of contracting specifications and the awarding of bids to specific businesses.
Prosecutors searched the offices of Huang and his department’s secretary on November 7 and questioned several contractors, reports said. As a result, they found that Huang had accepted more than NT$1 million (US$34,000) from a businessman. A total of NT$2.4 million (US$82,500) in cash was found at the latter’s office, leading investigators to believe he was preparing to pay off more officials, reports said.
Further questioning led prosecutors to believe that even more money had been paid to allow unlicensed businesses to participate in the reconstruction projects. They visited and summoned Lee in the hope of clarifying the complete flow of cash in the affair, reports said.
The county magistrate took leave to stay away from a regular questioning session for government officials at the Nantou County Council during the morning.
During his 2009 re-election campaign, Lee faced accusations from the media and the opposition that he traveled to the Indonesian resort island of Bali in the company of Vice President Wu Den-yih, who hails from Nantou, and a local figure allegedly associated with organized crime. Critics accused Lee of discussing future county government appointments with the alleged gangster. Wu, who was premier at the time, and Lee denied any improprieties.