Yunlin County principal detained

By Chan Shih-hung and Jason Pan  /  Staff reporters

Fri, Sep 25, 2015 - Page 3

A school principal in Yunlin County was taken into custody yesterday for her suspected role in a graft scandal involving the school’s lunch program, where she allegedly colluded with contractors to reap over NT$40 million (US$1.22 million) in illegal profits.

Public prosecutors took in Chen Hsiu-chuan (陳秀娟), principal of Da-Cheng Vocational High School in Yunlin’s Huwei Township (虎尾), and after questioning detained her on embezzlement, breach of trust and other charges related to the case.

Chen was appointed to the principal post of the private vocational high school in 2001.

Prosecutors said that, starting in 2002, Chen instructed the school’s accountant, who was identified only by his last name Weng (翁), to conspire with designated food suppliers for students’ lunch program, where they worked out a deal to receive kickbacks.

At that time, Chen allegedly received a cut of nearly NT$10 from each student’s lunch valued at NT$35. Later on her cut on each student’s lunch was trimmed down to between NT$4 to NT$8 due to varying food costs in subsequent years, and the price of each meal rose to NT$45 in recent years.

According to prosecutors, the school has had about 4,000 students over the years, and each student paid a compulsory fee of NT$3,000 to NT$4,000 for the lunch program each term.

Officials at Yunlin District Prosecutors Office and the judicial investigation agency in the county said they received complaints earlier this year from students’ parents, saying the cost of the school’s lunch program was above the market price and the fare was generally of poor quality.

The parents who made the complaint said the school’s lunch was substandard and detrimental to the mental and physical health of the students, and they have long suspected top school officials colluding with the lunch program’s contractors to receive kickbacks.

Prosecutors also raided four local food suppliers and lunch program contractors, and seized their ledgers and other documents as evidence.

During questioning by investigators, one contractor allegedly confessed to the collusion deal, and said his company had paid NT$500,000 in cash to Chen each month as payoff.

According to prosecutors, another food contractor said with the school principle taking such a high cut with her demand for kickbacks, and with the profit margins shrinking so much that he was forced to reduce the amount of fruits and vegetables in the meals they served.

It was estimated that through the past 14 years, Chen allegedly received around NT$40 million in kickbacks from her collusion deal on the school’s lunch program.