Thu, Jun 14, 2007 - Page 3 News List

Prosecutors probe Taiwan Dental Association

RAID The Supreme Court Prosecutors Office is investigating allegations that the dentists' group bribed legislators to ensure the passage of the Oral Health Law

By Jimmy Chuang and Flora Wang  /  STAFF REPORTERS

The Supreme Court Prosecutors Office's Special Investigation Section (SIS) raided the Taiwan Dental Association late on Tuesday night and questioned 27 dentists about alleged involvement in bribing lawmakers to support passage of the Oral Cavity Healthcare Law (口腔健康法) in 2003.

As of press time last night, none of the 27 dentists had been named as defendants or been detained.

"As of now, they are all considered witnesses," SIS spokesman Chen Yun-nan (陳雲南) said.

SIS launched the raid amid allegations that many members of the association had bribed legislators with NT$24.4 million (US$739,400) in total to support the Oral Cavity Healthcare Law.

The law included dental services in the National Health Insurance mechanism, ensuring dentists would continue to receive subsidies from the mechanism. The legislature approved the bill on April 25, 2003.

Deputy Minister of the Department of Health Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) and Nantou County Council Speaker Wu Chih-hsiang (吳棋祥) were also questioned by SIS officials on Tuesday night.

Chen Shih-chung was head of the association and Wu was one of its executive officers when the alleged bribery took place.

"We `chatted' with the 27 dentists because we wanted to figure out where the NT$24.4 million went," Chen Yun-nan said.

A source said the SIS knows which lawmakers took bribes from the association and prosecutors would soon summon those legislators, but Chen Yun-nan would not confirm this.

"We have not talked to any lawmaker and we are not working on that at this moment," he said.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator William Lai (賴清德) denied yesterday afternoon that he was among the lawmakers suspected of taking the dentists' money.

Lai is a long-time member of the Sanitation, Environment and Social Welfare Committee, which reviewed the bill.

"I did not receive any benefits in exchange for my support of the bill," Lai said.

"I was a doctor. It is natural for me to have received donations from medical circles in the past," he said.

"The purpose of the law is to promote oral health. It did not concern any special interests [groups]," Lai said. "The Department of Health also supported the legislation."

"As a legislator on the committee, it was very natural for me to help pass the bill. There was no dissenting opinion on the bill then, either," he said.

The DPP caucus gave Lai its backing yesterday.

"It does not make sense to allege someone broke the law just because a person or group made him election donations," DPP legislative whip Wang Tuoh (王拓) told a press conference.

"The allegation was very unfair to someone who has been working hard and upheld integrity in the Legislative Yuan," Wang said.

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