The Changhua District Court yesterday ordered that Cho Po-chung (卓伯仲), younger brother of Changhua County Commissioner Cho Po-yuan (卓伯源), be detained on suspicion of manipulation of several county government tenders and for reportedly receiving kickbacks from a contractor.
County government official Lee Yao-chuan (李耀全) and a contractor surnamed Huang (黃) were also ordered detained by judges.
Prosecutors requested that the court detain another county government official, Yang Jui-mei (楊瑞美), but judges allowed her to be released on bail of NT$1 million (US$330,000).
On Friday, the Changhua District Prosecutors’ Office dispatched 10 prosecutors and more than 100 agents to raid 16 sites, including the county government and its Taipei-based office, as well as Cho Po-chung’s residence in New Taipei City (新北市) and his home in Changhua’s Tianjhong Township (田中).
A total of 23 government officials and contractors, among them Cho Po-chung, were taken in for questioning after the searches, with 13 listed as defendants, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors launched the search after receiving a tip-off in January last year from a supplier of contractors responsible for arranging last year’s Year of the Dragon lantern festival held in Changhua’s Lugang Township (鹿港) in February.
The supplier alleged that the company that won the bid to manufacture 7 million reusable bags as souvenirs for participants at the annual celebration was forced to forfeit the bid, after the county government purposefully “gave it a hard time” and drastically reduced the contracted quantity of bags to only 10,000, the prosecutors said.
However, after Changhua-based Yistunee Enterprise Co (敞盛國際實業有限公司) won the retender for the project, the county government increased the number of required eco-friendly bags to 1.82 million, amounting to a contract price of NT$68.947 million, prosecutors said.
They quoted the whistleblower as accusing the country government of favoring certain companies.
Prosecutors said the county government is suspected of violating the Government Procurement Act (政府採購法) by allowing specific contractors to win contracts, adding that they suspected kickbacks were given to government officials and to Cho Po-chung.
Prior to the launch of the investigation, the Chinese-language Apple Daily reported last Sunday that Cho Po-chung in December 2010 received a suspicious payment of about NT$3.5 million from Wu Chun-te (吳俊德), the proprietor of Kuojung Printing Plant (國榮印刷廠), which had won four contracts for printing monthly calendars — totaling NT$53.63 million — for the county government between 2008 and last year.
Cho Po-chung was accused by his cousin, Cho Che-yi (卓哲毅), in the report of using what he said was the “dirty money from Wu” to buy an apartment near the Shandao Temple MRT station in Taipei.
However, the pair were quoted by the report as giving contradictory explanations for the purpose of the transaction, with Wu saying that the money was lent to him by Cho Po-chung in September 2010 to purchase a housing unit in New Zealand for his children, while the latter said the money was meant for Wu to expand his printing factory.
Cho Po-yuan of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) on Friday said he had a clear conscience and would not make too much of the investigation, adding that he would carry out his duties as normal.
“Other county government employees have also been instructed to focus on their work and cooperate with the probe. We hope the prosecutors can ascertain the truth as soon as possible,” Cho Po-yuan said.
Meanwhile, the county government said the bidding for monthly calendars and reusable bags were aimed at advertising the lantern festival and other activities held in the county and did not run counter to any standard protocols.
The ongoing probe also underscores Cho Po-yuan’s perceived ambition to become the KMT’s candidate for mayor of Greater Taichung in next year’s seven-in-one elections, because most of the reusable bags and monthly calendars were found to have been sent as souvenirs to residents and several borough chiefs in the administrative region.
Cho Po-yuan’s tactics of garnering public support and local backing by giving out free gifts was also seen in December 2011, when he gave away monthly calendars to Taichung residents and a six-piece bowl set to borough chiefs in the area under the pretext of advertising for last year’s lantern festival and “being a good neighbor.”
The move spawned widespread speculation about Cho Po-yuan’s political agenda, particularly when other cities and counties adjacent to Changhua were not given the same “neighborly” treatment.
Before the controversy died down, Cho Po-yuan sent another gift set featuring a plate and four reusable bags printed with his self-composed poem to Taichung’s borough chiefs in February last year, stirring up further controversy in the region’s political arena.
“Instead of administering affairs in his own administrative region, Cho Po-yuan is giving presents to Taichung all the time,” Greater Taichung Councilor Ho Wen-hai (何文海) of the Democratic Progressive Party said at the time.
Rather than exercising restraint amid criticism, Cho Po-yuan started holding “occasional small gatherings” in Taichung since the second half of last year.
The county government also doled out yet more environmentally friendly bags during the annual Flower of Sea Festival organized by the Greater Taichung Government in Sinshe District (新社) at the end of last year.
Additional reporting by Wu Wei-kung