by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Fcuk1203/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 3.0

FORMER NANTOU COUNTY magistrate Lee Chao-ching, a former member of the KMT, pled guilty to 81 crimes in a second-instance trial last week. As a result, Lee now faces 450 years in jail. The trial was held at the Taichung High Court. 

Lee’s sentencing goes to show how deeply rooted issues of corruption are in Taiwan at the local level, that even a former county magistrate can face such significant jail time. In particular, charges facing Lee are mostly regarding kickbacks for reconstruction projects after Typhoon Morakot, which struck Taiwan in August 2009. 

Lee reportedly demanded 10% in kickbacks for reconstruction projects, which were passed to him in gift boxes of tea and fruit. This was particularly the case regarding road and bridge projects, with Lee and associates forging documents instead of applying for public funds, and colluding to rig tenders for projects to award them to favored developers. 

Lee Chao-ching. Photo credit: WildBLUEbear/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 3.0

The Supreme Court found Lee guilty of receiving 9.46 million NT in kickbacks in 2018, though some of the charges then faced by Lee were sent back to lower-level courts for second-instance trials. Of 94 charges sent back for retrial, some were merged into other charges, some were thrown out, and some charges Lee was acquitted of due to insufficient evidence. This is what resulted in the 81 charges. 

Previous trials in 2017 and 2015 also found Lee guilty on a number of counts of corruption and kickbacks. In June 2017, the Nantou High Court sentenced Lee to 22 years in prison and deprived him of his civil rights for ten years. Lee’s brother-in-law, Chien Jui-chi, was also sentenced to 22 years in jail on charges of distributing illicit funds. 

At the same time, Lee was also implicated in corruption for public infrastructure projects that were not directly related to reconstruction after Typhoon Morakot. An example included demanding kickbacks of 16,000 NT for a street sewer repair project in Puli Township. More broadly, given his corruption regarding post-Typhoon Morakot reconstruction, Lee can be seen as a politician that stands at the intersection of crony capitalism and disaster capitalism in the Taiwanese context. 

In 2013, prosecutors stated that Lee received between 10% and 15% in kickbacks for almost all Nantou county public projects since his second term as Nantou county magistrate began in 2008. Lee served as Nantou county magistrate from December 2005 to November 2012, reportedly becoming more brazen in his actions during his second term. 

Lee was removed from office in 2012 while being investigated. The Control Yuan voted by eleven to one to impeach him in September 2013. Ma administration officials, including the then-premier Jiang Yi-huah, stated that they supported the rulings against Lee. 

With a number of pan-Blue officials currently under investigation for corruption, the KMT has sought to label this as political targeting of opponents from the Tsai administration. The most prominent example of this is Yilan county magistrate Lin Zi-miao, who was investigated in connection to a 108-hectare plot of land in Luodong, Yilan, that was originally protected land, but was purchased by relatives of Lin’s after being rezoned for a redevelopment project worth 5 billion NT. Lin was also questioned over checks worth 100 million NT received by her or her family members from former KMT legislator Yang Chi-hsiung over a period of twenty years. 

Fu Kun-chi (center). Photo credit: Fu Kun-chi/Facebook

There is likely to be less reflexive defense of Lee from the KMT, due to the fact that he was investigated and prosecuted under the Ma administration, the last ruling KMT presidential administration. As such, the KMT may not see any stake in defending Lee who has, in any case, been out of politics and facing charges for over ten years. 

At the same time, corruption is clearly no issue for members of the KMT holding high office. The KMT’s most recent standing committee election was marred by controversy because that Hualien legislator and former county magistrate Fu Kun–chi finished first in the central committee election. Polling suggested ahead of time that Fu’s wife, Hsu Chen-wei, would finish first.

Fu is well-known as one of the KMT’s most corrupt politicians. This includes charges of insider trading, corruption, and paying off the media. Fu’s wife, Hsu Chen-wei, in fact, entered politics after Fu was arrested on corruption charges, with Fu divorcing Hsu and naming her as deputy county magistrate so that she could continue ruling Hualien in his stead. 

Fu’s victory, ahead of KMT heavyweights that are more significant power players, resulted in criticisms from KMT members such as Taipei city councilor Hsu Chiao-hsin. This shows that even if the KMT may not have any interest in defending Lee, issues of corruption are still deeply rooted in the party. 

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