A bank passbook for Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Taipei City Councilor Lai Su-ju (賴素如) that showed a “suspicious deposit” is a key piece of evidence in the investigation into her alleged role in a bribery case linked to a high-profile Taipei development project, Taipei prosecutors said.
Investigations are continuing into allegations that Lai, a close aide of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), took bribes from the developer who won the bid for the Taipei Twin Towers project. Lai has been detained since last week.
Prosecutors say they have been investigating the principal suspects in the case, using wiretaps to monitor their telephone conversations.
They say investigators made a major breakthrough when they recorded phone conversations between Cheng Hung-tao (程宏道), the project contractor and main financial backer; Chia Er-ching (賈二慶), a former Taipei City Department of Rapid Transit Systems official; and Peng Chien-ming (彭建銘), the alleged middleman.
Investigators concluded that Lai was taking a bribe in exchange for helping the multinational consortium win the project.
The consortium, led by Taipei Gateway International Development, won the bid in October last year, but had to forfeit the project in February after failing to put up a performance guarantee by the deadline.
Seen as a rising political star, Lai held several important posts in the KMT party apparatus, including director of Ma’s KMT chairman’s office, a member of the Central Standing Committee and deputy director of the Culture and Communication Committee.
Lai resigned from all three posts last week after the allegations surfaced.
Given Lai’s position in the KMT and her business connections, prosecutors said they had to conduct a low-profile investigation and did not request permission to check her banking and financial transactions for fear of arousing suspicions that she was being monitored.
The Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office moved in with search warrants and detained the main suspects in the case on Wednesday last week. When investigators searched Lai’s legal services office, they found Lai’s bank passbook in a desk drawer of office supervisor Peng Ching-ya (彭靖雅).
The passbook showed that a NT$1 million (US$33,400 at current exchange rates) deposit was made in October 2011, investigators said, which matched the timing and amount of the bribe prosecutors allege the consortium gave Lai.
According to prosecutors, Peng Chien-ming has admitted he authorized an accountant at his firm to withdraw NT$1 million from a bank in October 2011 and then visited Lai’s legal service office to deliver the money to Lai in person.
After investigators mentioned the account book when questioning Lai, she admitted to receiving NT$1 million, but insisted it was a “political donation,” not a bribe, prosecutors said.
Lai said she had handed the money over to Peng Ching-ya for deposit in her personal bank account, prosecutors said.
According to prosecutors, Lai said the money remained in her account until October or November last year, when she told Peng Chien-ming to withdraw the money and keep it.
Peng Ching-ya has been questioned as a witness, prosecutors said.