Wed, Feb 14, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Ma indicted, quits as KMT chair

`MR. CLEAN' GETS DIRTY Ma Ying-jeou was indicted on corruption charges and resigned as KMT chairman. But he had a surprise for those who thought his career was over

By Rich Changand Mo Yan-chih  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chief Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) stepped down from his post yesterday after prosecutors indicted him on corruption charges, but immediately declared that he was innocent and would seek the presidency in 2008.

Prosecutors indicted Ma for allegedly siphoning funds from his "special allowance" fund when he was mayor of Taipei.

"Ma Ying-jeou is suspected of embezzling a total of NT$11 million [US$333,000], and he has been indicted on corruption charges," Taiwan High Court Prosecutors' Office spokesman Chang Wen-cheng (張文政) told a press conference yesterday afternoon.

Chang said that from December 1998 to last July, Ma had wired half of his monthly special allowance -- NT$170,000 -- directly into a personal account, and prosecutors found that Ma still had NT$11,176,227 in his and his wife's bank accounts.

INTENT?

Chang said Ma told prosecutors during the investigation that he acknowledged that the mayoral allowance was supposed to be spent on public affairs. Therefore, prosecutors decided Ma knew that keeping the funds in a private account was illegal, and he had therefore intentionally taken the money.

Chang said that Ma's monthly salary was about NT$150,000, but he deposited NT$200,000 into his wife Chou Mei-chin's (周美青) bank accounts every month. Therefore, prosecutors said they believed Ma used the public funds for private purposes.

Chang said Ma had included the money in his annual declaration of assets, as required by the law.

EVIDENCE?

Although Ma told prosecutors he had spent around NT$5 million on donations to non-government organizations, charity groups and academic research organizations, prosecutors found that in fact the money originated from election subsidies and surplus funds from his two Taipei mayoral campaigns, Chang said.

One of Ma's aides, Yu Wen (余文), was indicted on corruption charges late last year for using fraudulent receipts to claim reimbursements from the special allowance fund.

Prosecutors with the Black Gold Investigation Center -- part of the Taiwan High Court Prosecutors' Office -- also held a press conference yesterday to discuss the probe.

Prosecutor Eric Chen (陳瑞仁), who indicted first lady Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍) and three presidential aides on corruption and forgery charges in connection with the handling of the presidential office's state affairs fund, and Prosecutor Hou Kuan-jen (侯寬仁), were both involved in the investigation.

Eric Chen said Ma had failed to explain what legal basis he had for keeping public funds in a personal account.

The Ministry of Justice has previously said that special allowances should be seen as a "substantial subsidy" (實質補貼) for officials, and therefore do not require clear accounting.

But Eric Chen said prosecutors rejected this logic, as well as the Ministry of Justice's view that a "lenient approach" should be taken in investigations into special allowance funds.

Hou said he had been uncomfortable dealing with the case.

"However, a person in my position is expected to persevere regardless of the obstacles," Hou said.

In an evening press conference, Ma was unfazed by the indictment, officially announcing his presidential bid after resigning as party chairman only two hours after his indictment was announced.

"My innocence has been questioned, and my integrity -- to the surprise of many -- has been impugned. For me, this is more painful than losing my life," Ma said at KMT headquarters.

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