Fri, Mar 29, 2013 - Page 1 News List

Ma confidante faces bribery charges

CORRUPTION:Lai Su-ju, who runs President Ma Ying-jeou’s KMT office, says the NT$1 million she received from a public project bidder was a political donation

By Mo Yan-chih, Chen Ching-min and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporters,with staff writer and CNA

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Taipei City Councilor Lai Su-ju, second right, arrives for questioning in connection with a corruption investigation at the Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office on Wednesday evening.

Photo: CNA

The Taipei Prosecutors’ Office yesterday sought the court’s permission to detain a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Taipei City councilor known for her close ties to President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), on suspicion of accepting bribes in the bidding process for the Taipei Twin Towers project.

Lai Su-ju (賴素如), a lawyer and former KMT spokeswoman who now runs Ma’s KMT chairman’s office, was accused of promising to help a multinational consortium win the bid for the project in exchange for NT$10 million (US$334,520).

Initial investigations showed that Lai had accepted a downpayment of NT$1 million in 2011, prosecutors said.

The consortium, led by Taipei Gateway International Development (太極雙星), won the bid in October last year, but forfeited its right last month to undertake the major development project after failing to put up a performance guarantee before the deadline.

Taipei prosecutors summoned Lai, former Taipei City Department of Rapid Transit Systems official Jia Er-ching (賈二慶), Taipei City Finance Department Commissioner Chiu Da-chan (邱大展) and eight other people, including current and former heads of the consortium, for questioning on Wednesday.

Chiu was released pending further questioning on his suspected role in the disclosure of information, such as the names of the people on the review board for the tenders.

Prosecutors sought to detain Lai, Jia and Cheng Hung-dao (程宏道), a building contractor, to prevent collusion on testimony or destruction of evidence.

Three of the eight others were released on bail between NT$300,000 and NT$500,000, and the remaining five were released without bail.

The Taipei Prosecutors’ Office said it discovered suspicious illegal dealings involving the Taipei Twin Towers project two years ago.

A special task force was then formed to investigate the matter and collect evidence, the office said.

The investigations hit a snag in December last year, when the issue went public after KMT Taipei City Councilor Angela Ying (應曉薇) filed a complaint with the prosecutors’ office, alleging that there were illegal dealings on the Taipei Twin Towers project.

The complaint drew intense media attention, which interfered with the investigation, prosecutors said. Since then, nearly half of the investigative leads have been cut off or lost, they said.

“Some of the suspects in the case have become far more cautious and have even changed their cellphone numbers,” a prosecutor said.

With the winning bidder losing its right to build one of the city’s biggest development projects because of the deposit issue, it is the right time to move against the suspects, the prosecutors’ office said.

During the questioning on Wednesday, Lai said that the NT$1 million in cash she received in 2011 was a political donation, not a bribe.

The money was returned to the consortium after it lost the contract, she added.

Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) yesterday said that it was the city government’s initiative to send the case to the prosecutors, adding that he would respect the investigation.

Hau said he had instructed the city government’s Ethics Office to send the project to the prosecutors for review in December last year amid speculation about the bidding process, while defending the city government’s handling of the project.

“We followed the construction regulations in the bidding process, and I have instructed the concerned departments to handle the process in an open and transparent manner. We will not protect any civil servant who has engaged in illegal behavior,” he said.

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