Chiayi County Commissioner Helen Chang (張花冠) went on trial on Thursday on charges of accepting bribes worth NT$30 million (US$987,000) from a local businessman, who told the court he was “forced to” give the commissioner a loan when she was a legislator.
Businessman Pan Chung-hao (潘忠豪) told the Chiayi District Court that he was forced to loan NT$30 million to then-lawmaker Chang in 2004.
She served as a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmaker from 2002 to 2008, before becoming county magistrate in 2009.
Pan said he knew the money would never be returned.
At the time Pan was managing investment projects in Chiayi County.
“Now I realize that I have been fooled by the county government,” Pan told the court.
The case involves a biotech industrial park development project in the county, which never eventuated.
Chang asked for a NT$30 million “loan” from Pan in exchange for assistance with the investor’s acquisition of land and extended loans.
On Thursday, Chang demanded an apology after Prosecutor Liu Ta-hung (劉達鴻) asked Pan what clothing Chang was wearing — formal or casual — when he allegedly handed her the money.
Chang said the prosecution was asking “silly questions” and was disrespectful toward those involved in the trial.
“I want an apology,” she said.
She received an apology from Liu, but only after the hearing closed, not during the session.
“I was simply seeking to verify all of the facts,” Liu said.
Liu’s attempt at making peace with the commissioner was criticized by lead prosecutor Chen Yi-dun (陳以敦), who said it was “inappropriate for a prosecutor to contact an accused person outside the court.”
Chang was indicted in December 2012 on charges of corruption and money laundering — crimes that carry a maximum sentence of seven years in jail upon conviction.
In July of that year, she was investigated along with her sister, Chang Ying-chi (張瑛姬), DPP Legislator Chen Ming-wen (陳明文) and several others for suspected irregularities in the aborted development project and a procurement program at the county government.
Helen Chang and Chen were released on NT$3 million and NT$1 million bail respectively when the probe ended.
Chen was not indicted, but Chang Ying-chi was among the 21 people indicted in that case.
Chang is not the first county commissioner to be charged with corruption.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Nantou County Commissioner Lee Chao-ching (李朝卿) was stripped of his position following a probe in which he was detained on suspicion of receiving kickbacks from businesspeople involved in a local reconstruction project in late 2012.
Lee was indicted in March last year on charges of corruption and impeached by the Control Yuan in September last year.