The ongoing investigation into allegations of graft and bribery in the Taipei Twin Towers project (台北雙子星) has yielded the possibility that construction contractor Cheng Hung-dao (程宏道) may have approached officials in the Taipei City Government other than Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Taipei City Councilor Lai Su-ju (賴素如), prosecutors say.
The Taipei District Court on Saturday evening ruled in favor of detaining Cheng and Lai, a confidante of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).
Two others implicated in the case were released on Thursday: former Taipei City Department of Rapid Transit Systems (DORTS) official Jia Er-ching (賈二慶) was released on NT$300,000 (US$10,000) bail and Taipei City Finance Department Commissioner Chiu Da-chan (邱大展) was released without bail pending further questioning on his role in the illegal disclosure of information such as the names of the people on the review board for the bid.
Investigators said that middleman Peng Chien-ming (彭建銘), Taipei Gateway International Development consultant Lai Shih-sheng (賴世聲) as well as DORTS joint development division chief Lin Hsun-chieh (林勳杰) were to be summoned for further questioning.
Peng made statements to investigators that Lai Su-ju promised to propose a piece of legislation that would help private landowners have priority rights for land development projects in exchange for NT$1 million and that Lai Su-ju had called to ask for a second installment of NT$3 million after the proposal had passed its first review. Prosecutors said that this latter allegation alone was sufficient to charge Lai Su-ju with graft.
Prosecutors said that they supect that other city officials may also be involved in the case.
Pointing to the joint liability of all investors in the Twin Towers project, prosecutors said that both Taipei Gateway International Development and its partner, Malaysia’s IGB Group, had been permitted to skirt bidding process regulations and were also exempt from liability once the project proposal was changed.
IGB Group had not invested any money, nor provided any funds for bail, but it was a involved in the project, prosecutors said, adding that they were considering the possibility that Taipei Gateway International Development was using IGB Group for financial reasons.
The prosecutors have requested files for the contract from DORTS to clear up the questions in the case.
The prosecutors added that Taipei Gateway International Development chairman Michael Ho (何岳儒) had twice bid for the project as a representative of Ho Chuan International, but had been denied both times due to financial incapability or missing paperwork.
However, after Taipei Gateway International Development was founded, Ho falsified foreign investment documents to secure an official statement from the Taipei City Government’s Investment Commission certifying that he was financially capable of undertaking the project, which then gave Taipei Gateway International Development special priority for contract discussion, prosecutors alleged.
The prosecutors said that they strongly doubted that any of the money that Taipei Gateway International put down as collateral for the project came from where the consortium claimed it did, adding that they suspected the company talked with 10 other contractors, promising to outsource the project to them once it won the bid in exchange for the contractors providing NT$13 million to put toward the NT$130 billion down payment required to get the tender.
Prosecutors added that in accordance with amendments to the Mass Rapid Transit Act (大眾捷運法) in 2011, private landowners cannot participate in bidding for public projects, but it would seem that this restriction had not been observed in the Taipei Twin Towers project.
Prosecutors said investigators are also probing allegations that Lai, after receiving the bribe, had also proposed an amendment to the act to allow private landowners to participate in public project bids.
They said that of the 37 landowners on whose property the project was supposed to be built, one owner, Lee Chiu-ming (李邱明), had been given the right to bid on the project last year using legislative regulations from seven years ago. They suspected that Cheng had been behind Lee being granted the right and that the contractor had given Lee the money to participate in the bidding.
Prosecutors said that all they have found in the course of their investigation points to other governmental officials’ involvement because of the calculated and precise ways in which the bidding process had transpired.
Meanwhile, prosecutors said they also suspected the committee members that were in charge of reviewing the project’s bid of malfeasance, saying that some members had given Taipei Gateway International Development excessively high marks so it would pass the review.
It was these high marks that allowed the committee to choose Taipei Gateway International Development instead of the BES Engineering Corp, the second bidder, prosecutors said.
They added that that the alleged connections of some members at Taipei Gateway International Development to organized crime figures — some of whom are suspected to be loan sharks — also raised suspicion and warranted a thorough probe into how the company had won the bid.