Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Hou Ho-shong (侯和雄) and several ministry officials were called in for questioning yesterday on suspicion of involvement in bid-rigging on seven construction projects.
At press time, Hou and the other officials were still being questioned at a Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau (MJIB) office in Taichung.
"Hou, officials from the Water Resources Agency and Taiwan Water Corp -- both under the Ministry of Economic Affairs -- were questioned about the bidding for seven water construction projects," Nantou District Prosecutors Office spokesman Wu Tso-yan (吳祚延) told a press conference yesterday.
Wu said the projects were in Taichung and Nantou.
Officials from China Steel Corp and the other companies that won bids were also questioned.
A total of 37 individuals were questioned, Wu said.
He said that prosecutors from the Supreme Prosecutors Office's special investigation panel and Nantou District Prosecutors Office had led bureau agents on searches of 33 locations nationwide yesterday morning, including the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Taiwan Water Corp, the Water Resources Agency and Hou's residence in Taichung County.
Wu said Hou and the other officials were suspected of helping certain companies to win bids and that the vice minister was at the center of the scandal.
They could face corruption and forgery charges, he said.
Hou proclaimed his innocence to reporters as he entered the MJIB office.
Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Shih Yen-hsiang (
Hou, 63, holds a doctorate in civil and oceanographic engineering from the University of Florida and a master's degree in civil engineering from National Cheng Kung University in Tainan.
A water resource management specialist, Hou was appointed to his post by then premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) to replaced Yiin Chii-ming (尹啟銘), who stepped down over a water-supply problem in Taoyuan County in September 2005.
Hou served as deputy Kaohsiung mayor when Hsieh was mayor there from 1999 to 2003.
This was not the first time Hou has come under investigation.
He was involved in a scandal when he was head of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications' department of railways and highways.
One month after assuming his post at the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Hou and former presidential adviser Chen Che-nan (陳哲男) were accused by People First Party Legislator Sun Ta-chien (孫大千) of forcing the navy and state-run CSBC Corp, Taiwan (台船) to have Jong Shyn Shipbuilding Co (中信造船) included among firms building missile boats for the navy.
Hou's longstanding ties with Hsieh have led to speculation that his link to the latest scandal court hurt the Democratic Progressive Party presidential candidate's election chances.