Sat, Jan 04, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Scandal brings Chu down to earth

ROLLER COASTER After amassing a fortune, Kaohsiung City Council Speaker Chu An-hsiung is now in jail pending investigations into his alleged vote-buying

By Crystal Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Recently elected Kaohsiung City Council Speaker Chu An-hsiung (朱安雄), once one of the most influential politicians and industrialists in southern Taiwan, is now the prime target of an anti-corruption campaign.

On Sunday, Chu and his wife, Wu Der-mei (吳德美), were detained on charges of bribery and possibly financial fraud involving Chu's embattled An Feng Group.

The couple reportedly engaged in illicit activities to secure Chu's third term and speakership in the council, which makes crucial decisions on construction of the city's mass rapid transit system.

Contractors building the multi-billion transport system allegedly helped pay for Chu's vote-buying scheme that has implicated councilors from across party lines.

DPP council caucus whip Jan Yung-lung (詹永龍) and Chu's top aide, Hsien Ji-yu (賢繼禹), have also been taken into custody. Chu's sister-in-law Wu Pin-fang (吳品芳) has agreed to help in the investigation in exchange for protection from prosecution.

Chu has been on a hunger strike to protest his arrest.

His disputed electoral triumph is widely considered the product of ingrained corrupt money politics that has threatened country's financial health and sapped the public's confidence in the government.

Ambitious and venturesome, Chu and his wife rapidly increased their wealth between the 1970s and 1990s through their An Feng Group, which spans the construction, fishing, steel, metal and securities industries.

This was partly made possible by cozy political connections the couple cultivated during the period, when both held important elected offices.

In 1973, Chu first entered politics by winning a seat on the Kaohsiung City Council at the age of 28. Before that, he worked at the accounting department of the Formosa Plastics Group for six years.

Chu, 59, once said he most admired FPG Chairman Wang Yung-ching (王永慶), who started building the Sixth Naphtha Cracker at the age of 78 and has continued to expand his business empire.

After serving as a councilor for two terms, Chu decided to move up the political ladder. In 1981, he was elected as a Control Yuan member when the position was chosen by deputies of the now-defunct Provincial Assembly.

While Chu was in the Control Yuan, Wu succeeded in inheriting Chu's constituency support and won a seat on the Kaohsiung City Council. She served as a legislator between 1984 and 1996, during which time the couple made their An Feng Steel Co the country's third largest steelmaker.

After a 1992 constitutional amendment gave the president the power to name Control Yuan members, Chu retired from the watchdog agency in 1993. He ran for Kaohsiung City councilor in 1994 to keep his political career alive and won.

His wife opted to focus on their businesses, which had showed signs of decline and plunged into a state of crisis amid the regional financial crisis in 1997.

The couple, both KMT stalwarts at that time, sought help from then-KMT treasurer Liu Tai-ying (劉泰英), who in 1998 directed the party's businesses to pump NT$2.5 billion into Feng An Metal Co, even though experts branded the firm as "beyond redemption."

Chu broke ranks with the KMT later the same year to run for his second term as an independent.

In May 2000, prosecutors indicted the couple on charges of embezzlement, forgery and tax evasion and recommended imprisonment of seven years for Chu and two years and four months for Wu. Evidence indicated the couple, beginning in 1992, had stolen more than NT$20 billion from their own companies.

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