Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Tsai Huang-liang (蔡煌瑯) and seven former legislators across party lines were yesterday each sentenced to more than seven years in prison by the Taiwan High Court for accepting bribes from the Taiwan Dental Association in return for their endorsement of the Oral Healthcare Act (口腔健康法).
The Taipei District Court found the eight not guilty in October last year, but in yesterday’s ruling, Tsai was sentenced to eight years in prison and his civil rights were suspended for five years. Tsai’s elder brother, Tsai Chao-cheng (蔡朝正), an executive at a pharmaceutical company, was also sentenced to eight years in prison and had his civil rights suspended for five years.
Former DPP legislators Jao Yung-ching (趙永清) and Lee Ming-hsien (李明憲), former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislator Chang Tsa-mei (張蔡美) and former People First Party (PFP) legislator Chiu Chuang-liang (邱創良) were all sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison and their civil rights were suspended for three years.
Former PFP legislator Yang Fu-mei (楊富美) and former DPP legislator Lee Chen-nan (李鎮楠) were sentenced to seven years and two months in prison, and their civil rights were suspended for three years.
Former DPP legislator Liao Pen-yen (廖本煙) was sentenced to seven years and three months in prison, and his civil rights were suspended for three years.
The ruling said Tsai Huang-liang accepted NT$3.5 million (US$110,000) from the dental association through his brother.
Jao, Chang, Chiu and Lee Ming-hsien received NT$1 million each, while Yang, Liao and Lee Chen-nan pocketed NT$500,000 each, the rulling said.
All the defendants can appeal.
The court said the dental association proposed an oral healthcare act in 2002 that would allow dentists to receive subsidies from the Bureau of National Health Insurance.
Tsai Huang-liang in April 2002 submitted a draft bill to the legislature, but a number of legislators from across party lines opposed it.
The association then paid off key legislators in return for their endorsement of the draft, the ruling said.
The act was approved in April 2003.
The ruling said the money was given in exchange for endorsement of the bill, so it could not be seen as “sponsored funds” or “political donations.”
Tsai Huang-liang, Chao and Liao are DPP candidates in January’s legislative elections, the first two running for at-large positions.
In a statement yesterday evening, DPP Ethics Committee chairman Chang Tien-chin (張天欽) said the ruling would not affect their nominations.
The case was discussed and dismissed by the committee on Feb. 12, 2009, because it had gone beyond the five-year statute of limitations mandated by the DPP’s ethics code, Chang said.
The alleged bribery took place in 2002, but charges were only filed in 2008.
At an earlier press conference, DPP spokesman Lin Chun-hsien (林俊憲) said the three candidates’ nominations would remain valid unless they were convicted in the final ruling.
The Taiwan High Court ruling is “unacceptable” and may have been politically motivated, Tsai Huang-liang told a separate press conference, vowing he would appeal.
The indictment was “selective and controversial,” he said, because more than 50 legislators were investigated by the prosecutors at the time.
Liao also told a press conference that he found the ruling unacceptable because no new evidence had been submitted after the first trial, adding that the money he received was a donation by the Taiwan Dental Association.