Deadbeats take taxpayers cash and give it to China

MASSIVE DEBTS: Why are Taiwanese businessmen allowed to continue ignoring their debts to state-run banks while investing heavily in ventures in China?

By Tsai Yu-jen   /  WIN-WIN WEEKLY REPORTER

Mon, Jul 28, 2003 - Page 11

The following heated exhange took place in the legislature's finance committee one year ago:

PFP Legislator Chen Chih-bin (陳志彬): Why was the Tuntex Group (東帝士集團) able to invest more than NT$13 billion in China while it was seeking a bailout from [Taiwan's] Ministry of Finance banks?

Lee Yung-san (李庸三, former finance minister): In my understanding, the Xianglu Group (翔鷺集團, Tuntex's conglomerate in China) was set up by way of technology transfer. He [former Tuntex Group president Chen Yu-hao (陳由豪)] even brought back US$10 million [to Taiwan] to build a factory [in China].

Chen: But everyone knows that [Tuntex's] Chen invested in the company.

Lee: He merely built the factory for China and transferred technology. According to an investigation by the Mainland Affairs Council (陸委會), he has no property registered under his name in China ... He's still doing business in Taiwan.

This exchange was brought on by the question of whether Chen had left his debts behind in Taiwan. After crossing swords with law-makers, Lee said something that no one found acceptable: "Chen's assets are still in Taiwan."

All of a sudden, ordinary people have finally realized why these "magnates" running into debt have all tried to avoid clearing their bank loans.

It is because the financial institutions haven't got a clue about the ability of these debt-evading tycoons to move their capital. What is even more deplorable is that government officials even speak on behalf of these shirkers.

When Lee said, "Chen's still running a business in Taiwan," it grated on those who know Chen in person or who used to work for him.

Apart from Chen, Hone Shee Group (鴻禧集團) chairman Chang Hsiu-cheng (張秀政), Cathay Trust Group (國泰信託集團) chairman Tsay Chern-nan (蔡辰男) and former Chung Shing Commercial Bank (中興銀行) chairman Wang Yu-yun (王玉雲) are all famous for their booming businesses in China.

Wang owns a five-star hotel in Hangzhou. He left behind NT$88.5 billion in bad debts at Chung Shing Bank. Chen, Chang and Tsay and their affiliated businesses borrowed a total of more than NT$300 billion from local banks.

Despite the massive debts they left behind in Taiwan, these tycoons have shown their prowess across the Taiwan Strait. Chen set up his Xianglu Group in Xiamen. Chang and often invites influential Chinese officials to play golf at his Hone Shee golf course in Beijing. Tsay, hailed as "the King of Dalian," has seen the value of his shopping mall in Dalian City, northeast China, quadruple.

Core Pacific Group chairman Shen Ching-ching (沈慶京) also planned to build a world-class wonderland theme park in Hangzhou. But the plan was canceled less than a year later. He still holds the dream of becoming China's shopping mall king one day.

Let's have a closer look at the bad debts these entrepreneurs have left behind at Taiwan's financial institutions. Chen and Chang each owe nearly NT$100 billion. Tsay owes more than NT$10 billion yet he is still influential in both Taiwan and China. Faced with massive bad debts at local banks, even the finance ministry can do nothing about it.

Insufficient collateral is the banks' problem. This is an idea shared by all the tycoons who have left their debts in Taiwan. The debts left behind by Chang, Chen, Tsay, their affiliated businesses, friends and relatives are seriously short on collateral.

The banks have tried to auction off the deadbeats' collateral but have failed. In contrast, their businesses on the other side of the Strait are growing by the day. Each of them is investing large sums of money in those businesses, and none of them have borrowed money from Chinese financial institutions.

The Executive Yuan's financial reform task force is constantly reviewing how the financial institutions are disposing of their bad loans.

It has proposed an NT$600 billion financial reconstruction fund to stop the gap at the banks. One can't help but wonder: What is the reasoning behind having the entire public clean up the mess left behind by these deadbeat tycoons?

According to an investigation by Win-Win Weekly, Chen and his companies left behind debts totaling as much as NT$100 billion in Taiwan.

These include debts owed by:

-- Grand Union Construction Co Ltd (全盈隆建設), a major holding company that changed its name from Tuntex Group Construction Co (東帝士建設);

-- Tung Hua Development Corp (東華開發), which built the Daguan housing district (達觀鎮) in Hsintien City;

-- Tuntex Distinct Corp (東雲), which is chaired by Su Chih-cheng (蘇志誠);

-- Tuntex Petrochemicals Inc (東展興業), in which Chen still holds 50 percent of the shares.

In contrast, his businesses in China are growing by the day. For example, construction of the Donglian Mansion (東聯大廈) near Beijing's Desheng Gate has been completed. Chen's partner in that project is the "Taiwan Affairs Office" of the Beijing city government. The building also houses some city government offices. One wonders how much money Chen pumped into China to accumulate such connections and influence.

On June 13, Chen quietly arrived in Beijing from Xiamen to handle some private affairs. The Taipei District Court had issued an arrest warrant for Chen on a charge of embezzling more than NT$800 million from Tung Hua Development Corp.

As a partner of Beijing's Taiwan affairs office, Chen naturally was given a courteous reception in Beijing. Taiwan's arrest warrant did not seem to have any effect on him.

In Taiwan, even Chen himself has said the Tuntex group now exists in name only.

Over the past few years, he has successfully divided the conglomerate into independent entities so that the good companies can avoid being encumbered by the financially unsound ones.

Chen still plans to take back a leading role any time, including at Tuntex Petrochemicals Inc, which is a major manufacturer of purified terephthalic acid that has started to turn profitable.

Chen is an influential magnate in the US, Thailand and China. In particular the Xiamen Xianglu Group, which paid more than 600 million yuan in taxes last year, has set a stable foundation for Chen to cultivate his influence in China.

Hone Shee group chairman Chang, who was bogged down by another land development project in Hsintien City, allegedly bounced almost a thousand cheques in Taiwan more than a year ago. The group's affiliated businesses and individuals have all been blacklisted by Taiwan banks.

Meanwhile, a golf course he built in the Beijing Economic and Technology Development Zone has now become an important gathering place for Beijing's political and business luminaries.

Here in Taiwan, a financial crisis have prompted banks to try several times, unsuccessfully, to auction off the Hone Shee Villa and golf course. Chang's business in Beijing, meanwhile, has blossomed and borne fruit.

"These people are the biggest tragedy of the Taiwanese people. Some unknowledgeable officials even bailed them out, lowered interest rates and let them move money to China, creating job opportunities for the Chinese, while causing some Taiwanese to lose their jobs," said a Taiwanese businessman who used to work for Chen Yu-hao.

Currently the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are still stuck on the three direct links issue. There's no way to ask the Chinese government, through official procedures, to help arrest these economic criminals.

However, there are still ways to collect the massive debts they owe the banks. The local banks only have to ask third-country banks to help coordinate the overseas collection.

The debtors will eventually have to come forward and solve the problems; otherwise, their international credit will be affected.

Deplorably, our government officials are still out of the loop even when they are answering questions at the Legislative Yuan. In the end, the entire Taiwanese public will have to shoulder all the debts left behind by these tycoons.

This article first appeared in Win-Win Weekly (今周刊).

Translated by Francis Huang and Jackie Lin