Prosecutors grill DOH official

CORRUPTION ACCUSATION: Lee Chuang-shan was held for questioning for allegedly taking bribes from the the Kaohsiung Chang Gung Hospital to provide surgical masks

By Jimmy Chuang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Fri, May 23, 2003 - Page 3

Taipei Chief Prosecutor Kao Ta-fang (高大方) and Prosecutor Lin Dai-li (林黛利) summoned Department of Health (DOH) Secretariat Director Lee Chung-shan (李中杉) for questioning over suspicion of corruption and misappropriation and released him on NT$200,000 bail late Wednesday night.

Lee allegedly gave 50,000 N95 respirators, which belonged to the DOH, to Chang Gung Memorial Hospital's Linkou branch without any authorization from his superiors on May 7.

He was summoned on suspicion of accepting bribes from the hospital and taking advantage of his position to give the respirators to the hospital.

Prosecutors discovered that Lee decided to send the masks immediately after a secret meeting with Lee Po-feng (李伯鋒), the deputy director of the hospital's Procurement Department.

"We did not discover any evidence to prove that Lee accepted any bribes. However, he did decide to give away these respirators to the hospital without authorization," said Chen Hung-ta (陳宏達), the spokesman for the Taipei District Prosecutors' Office.

"In addition to releasing him on bail, we also decided to ban him from traveling outside the country."

The Ministry of Justice issued a press release late on Wednesday night about the prosecutors' decision to release Lee on bail and ban him from traveling outside the country.

According to the press release, Lee was summoned on Wednesday afternoon and interrogated until approximately 11pm.

Yesterday morning, Lee still went to work as usual. At his office, he showed a detailed list of respiratory procurement between the hospital and San Hui Co, which is a respirator importer, and said that he was merely doing what he was supposed to do.

"The hospital purchased 130,000 N95 respirators from the company on May 2. However, the DOH legally took over the ownership of 110,000 N95 respirators from the company in a bid to control the spread of SARS.

"The hospital was desperate for respirators and I was helping those doctors and nurses who needed these masks. That's all," Lee said.

Lee's explanation was supported by his then-supervisor, former DOH director-general Twu Shiing-jer (涂醒哲).

"Lee is a person who can tell what is right and what is wrong. I believe in him," Twu said.

Chang Gung Hospital also held a press conference yesterday afternoon to explain the process of purchasing these respirators and said that the hospital has never tried to bribe any government officials.

"We purchased a total of 130,000 N95 respirators from San Hui on May 2 and we asked for the procurement to be completed on May 7," said Chuang Yi-chou (莊逸洲), the vice chairman of the hospital's Policymaking Committee.

Chuang said that Lee gave the hospital only 50,000 masks. He added that the DOH, which now has the authority to distribute all the respirators in Taiwan, has to distribute these respirators fairly because other hospitals are facing a shortage of respirators as well.

"So we got 50,000 respirators from the DOH on May 7. That's what it's all about.

"And honestly, we still need more respirators at this moment," Chuang said.

"How does this have anything to do with bribery?" he asked.