The Taiwan High Court last night approved Taipei prosecutors’ appeal against the Taipei District Court’s decision to release Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Taipei City councilor Lai Su-ju (賴素如) on bail.
The Taipei District Court will hold another hearing today on whether Lai should be detained.
Lai, a lawyer and one of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) most trusted aides and legal consultants, was suspected of accepting bribes in the bidding process for the Taipei Twin Towers (台北雙子星) project.
The Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office sought to detain Lai, former Taipei City Department of Rapid Transit Systems official Jia Er-ching (賈二慶) and building contractor Cheng Hung-dao (程宏道) to prevent collusion on testimony or destruction of evidence, but the district court early yesterday morning released Lai on NT$1.2 million (US$40,170) bail, as well as Jia and Cheng, who were freed on bail of NT$100,000 and NT$300,000 respectively.
The court said it released the three after deciding that there was little chance of any collusion that would taint the trio’s testimony, adding that Cheng and Jia have already confessed during questioning to paying Lai a bribe. Lai had also admitted to taking the NT$1 million payment, although she denied any wrongdoing, arguing that the money was a political donation rather than a bribe.
The court banned the three from moving out of their current residences and barred them from leaving the country.
Local media reported that Lai cried several times during the district court hearing on Thursday evening, pleading with judges not to detain her.
“If I am detained, I don’t want to live anymore,” she was quoted as saying during the hearing.
Lai said she had resigned from all of her KMT posts, including director of the KMT chairman’s office, “to avoid creating problems for her superiors.”
Lai was accused of promising to help a multinational consortium win the bid for the project in exchange for NT$10 million.
The consortium, led by Taipei Gateway International Development (太極雙星), won the bid in October last year, but forfeited its right to undertake the project last month after failing to put up a performance guarantee by deadline.
Prosecutors said they suspected that Lai had struck a deal with the consortium to get the NT$10 million bribe in three installments — NT$1 million as a down payment, NT$3 million after Taipei Gateway International Development had signed the contract with the Taipei City Government to build the Twin Towers and NT$6 million when construction starts.
Initial investigations showed that Lai had accepted NT$1 million in 2011, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said that most of the negotiations over the bribery payment for the project took place in Lai’s office, adding that after placing a wiretap on the middleman, Peng Chien-ming (彭建銘), they discovered that Lai had initially asked for NT$15 million, claiming that she had to work through city councilors.
However, Cheng complained that NT$15 million was too much and made his thoughts known to Peng through Chia, prosecutors said, adding that the final price agreed upon was NT$10 million and that Lai was all “smiles and nods” when she heard the final price from Peng.
When investigators on Wednesday questioned Lai about the Twin Towers project after prosecutors and Investigation Bureau agents raided her residence, law firm and her office at the Taipei City Council earlier that day, Lai briefed the investigators on the technical details of the Twin Towers project and her duty to supervise its proceedings as a city councilor.
However, Lai was caught off guard when investigators showed her evidence, including wiretap transcript and witnesses’ testimony, they said.
Lai maintained that the NT$1 million was a political donation, adding that the money was returned to the consortium after it lost the contract.
Asked whether she had declared the sum under political donations, Lai said she had not, adding that she planned to do so at the next elections.
Lai’s alleged method of asking for the bribe — dividing it into three separate deliveries— appears similar to that of former Executive Yuan secretary-general Lin Yi-shih (林益世) who, indicted on corruption charges, allegedly asked for bribes in three blocks of NT$30 million, NT$30 million and NT$23 million.
This has sparked jokes and spoofs on the Internet, with some netizens joking that dividing bribes into three separate installments has seemingly become “the standard operation procedure for crooked officials.”
Additional reporting by Shih Hsiao-kuang and CNA