The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) yesterday demanded that Minister of Justice Tseng Yung-fu (曾勇夫) explain allegations that he met with former Nantou County commissioner Lee Chao-ching (李朝卿) on the day Lee was implicated in a graft case, and said he should step down if the reports are true.
In an article yesterday, the Chinese-language Next Magazine said that Tseng met Lee, a member of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), in Nantou on Nov. 20, the same day the director of the county government’s public works department, Huang Jung-te (黃榮德), implicated Lee in a corruption case.
The magazine said the two met at the residence of a local artist named Pai Tsang-yi (白滄沂), adding that Tseng had told Lee to “deal cautiously with the serious case” during a one-hour meeting.
The magazine also reported that Prosecutor-General Huang Shih-ming (黃世銘) visited the Nantou Prosecutors’ Office on Nov. 29, the day Lee was summoned by prosecutors for questioning. Lee was detained the following day.
According to the magazine, the information was provided by Nantou County Councilor Lin Yung-hung (林永鴻).
Prosecutors raided 26 locations and detained Huang, Lee’s secretary, Chang Chih-yi (張誌誼), and a contractor, Wu Chung-chi (吳仲琪), over a corruption case in which the county government allegedly received kickbacks from contractors who won public projects for fixing road damage caused by various typhoons or floods.
Prosecutors said almost NT$10 million (US$343,800) in dirty money was identified in 10 projects.
On Nov. 29, prosecutors searched Lee’s office and a number of other locations and seized NT$300,000 in cash in tea cans from Lee’s office, more than NT$1 million in cash from Huang’s house and NT$2.4 million in cash from Wu’s residence. Lee was unable to explain the origins of the money, but denied any involvement in the corruption.
At a press conference yesterday morning at the Ministry of Justice, Tseng denied meeting with Lee, while Huang said in a press release that his visit to the Nantou Prosecutors’ Office was appropriate and legal.
“This is going to be the most serious scandal in judicial history. Tseng should immediately resign if the report is true,” DPP Legislator Tsai Chi-chang (蔡其昌) told a press conference.
Tseng should explain whether he leaked information related to the case to Lee, Tsai said, adding that Huang should also explain why he visited the prosecutors’ office “at such a sensitive time.”
As an experienced former prosecutor, Tseng “knew very well that it was not appropriate for him to meet with interested parties,” said DPP Legislator Wu Ping-jui (吳秉叡), a former judge.
“If the meeting did take place, Tseng could also have been involved in collusion,” Wu said.
Huang’s stated objective for his Nov. 29 visit to Nantou, which the prosecutor-general said was to “boost the morale of local prosecutors,” does not make sense because he only did so for that specific case, Wu said.
“We fear that the judiciary has become a tool of the ruling party to cover up its wrongdoings and poor governance,” Wu said.
DPP spokesman Lin Chun-hsien (林俊憲) told reporters that the alleged meeting “would hurt people’s confidence in the judiciary and dampen judicial workers’ morale tremendously” and Tseng would no longer be qualified to serve as minister of justice.
Lin urged the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office Special Investigation Division to launch a probe into the case immediately and offer a clear explanation to the public.
At a press conference yesterday morning, Tseng denied meeting Lee on Nov. 20.
“I made a speech at a Taiwan Province Government meeting in Nantou County on Nov. 20, which had been arranged in September, and I met Pai at the location by accident, but I did not meet Lee that day,” Tseng said.
“I ask the magazine to correct the report in its next edition or I will sue the magazine and Lin,” he said.
Meanwhile, Huang said in a statement that as prosecutor-general, he went to the Nantou District Prosecutors’ Office to oversee the Lee case and that his involvement in the matter was in accordance with the law.