Taiwan Ministry of Interior denies interference in Nantou County chief case

Lee Chao-ching referred to Control Yuan instead of reinstated

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Interior Minister Lee Hong-yuan on Tuesday denied there had been interference from higher-up in his decision to turn down a request for reinstatement for former Nantou County Magistrate Lee Chao-ching after he was charged with corruption last week.
Before the weekend, the minister said that according to the law, only a conviction by a district-level court would bar a county chief from returning to office after being released on bail. Lee was indicted on March 26 for allegedly pocketing more than NT$30 million (US$1 million) in kickbacks for local construction projects and subsequently released on bail of NT$20 million (US$669,000) after spending about four months in detention.
The following day, he applied for reinstatement as county chief, but Minister Lee announced Monday evening that he would turn down his request and refer the county chief to the nation’s top government watchdog body, the Control Yuan.
The minister told reporters Tuesday that Lee had many friends who had hoped the county chief would voluntarily withdraw his request for reinstatement, but he didn’t do so before Monday’s 7 p.m. deadline.
The minister said he had informed Premier Jiang Yi-huah of his intention to solve the problem and he had also faxed a copy of his statement to the Presidential Office.
He said the most important aspect in solving the case was respect for the law, though public opinion and political considerations were also important.
Vice President Wu Den-yih, who hails from Nantou, reportedly also tried to convince Lee not to insist on returning to office.
Opposition activists were outraged at the county chief’s reinstatement campaign because he had been charged with taking bribes in more than 100 projects, many of them related to reconstruction of roads and bridges in Nantou, a mountainous region often subject to landslides during typhoons.
Former Democratic Progressive Party Chairman Shih Ming-te reportedly threatened to relaunch his ‘Red Shirt’ movement, which waged a campaign of protests against then-President Chen Shui-bian which culminated in a symbolic ‘siege’ of the Presidential Office Building in 2008.
The Control Yuan said Tuesday it was already looking into Lee Chao-ching for alleged irregularities in county procurement for an athletic event and would merge the new request from the Ministry of Interior with its ongoing investigation.
It said it was likely to summons Lee for questioning, though it could also visit Nantou County and interview other county officials.
The outrage against Lee’s determination to return to power was seen as likely to damage the ruling Kuomintang in the run-up to regional and local elections late next year and to President Ma Ying-jeou’s bid for re-election as party chairman this year.
Ma’s insistence on combining the posts of president and KMT chairman has come under fire after a close confidante, Taipei City Councilor Lai Su-ru, was ordered detained last Saturday amid charges of accepting bribes in the Taipei Twin Towers project.
In addition, former Cabinet Secretary-General Lin Yi-shih has been on trial for allegedly taking bribes from a businessman in return for a contract with a state-run company.
The scandals have eroded Ma’s popularity and damaged his reputation as a clean politician.