by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Ann Kao/Facebook
THE OFFICES OF TPP legislator Ann Kao, who is the mayor-elect of Hsinchu, were searched by prosecutors yesterday. Kao and other witnesses were also questioned by prosecutors
The search was in connection to allegations against Kao of illicit gains from public funds and illegal pay deductions for her legislative assistant. Kao is accused of colluding with Lee Chung-ting, reportedly her boyfriend, in that Lee was registered as a legislative assistant despite working at the Yonglin Foundation, making more than 6 million NT per year. This allowed Kao to collect the subsidies provided by the government to legislators for hiring assistants in his name.
Similarly, Kao is accused of illegally deducting the pay of her legislative assistants for various infractions and pocketing the money herself, to spend on personal items. Nevertheless, Kao has claimed in response to criticisms that these were voluntary contributions.
Among those to come forward against Kao are other members of the TPP, including Kao’s former legislative assistants and Lin Guan-nian, the former director of the TPP’s Hsinchu county chapter. At the same time, Lin was originally slated to run for mayor in Zhubei, Hsinchu, before he was forced to withdraw over drunk driving allegations, suggesting that it is possible he is hoping to hit back at the party.
The investigations center around these charges, but Kao also faces other allegations. Kao is one of the many candidates in the 2022 elections that faced plagiarism charges. For Kao, this was with regards to accusations that she self-plagiarized government-funded research she conducted at the Institute for Information Industry (III) for her Ph. D dissertation without receiving permission from the III.
Likewise, as has been reported on primarily by tabloids, Lee, is reportedly married and his wife recently died of cancer, but the infidelity aspect of the current wave of scandals facing Kao has not been focused on as much–even in notoriously sensationalist Taiwanese news. Kao is close to FoxConn founder Terry Gou and seemingly originally became a TPP candidate as a means of linking the party with Gou. Though some rumors suggest the two have become distant, before elections, the two made joint appearances to dispel this claim. But Lee is also linked to Gou, in that he works at Gou’s Yonglin Foundation, the charitable organization that Gou founded.
Kao is not the only legislator that has faced similar charges over docking the pay of legislative assistants, or embezzling funds that were meant for legislative assistants. This has been a recurring form of scandal facing legislators, with NPP former legislator Kawlo Iyun removed from office, and independent city councilor Lin Yin-meng among those to face similar charges.
Nevertheless, the controversy is a troubling one for the TPP. Immediately prior to the election, TPP legislator Tsai Pi-ru resigned over plagiarism charges, even as she denied them. Tsai’s resignation may have been with the aim of preventing the scandal from affecting the runs of other TPP members and, certainly, this did not prove an obstacle to Kao winning office. Yet continued charges facing Kao could hurt the TPP’s image when it claims to be a party free from the taint of traditional pan-Blue versus pan-Green politics.
Prosecutors were reportedly afraid that Kao would try to destroy evidence before she took office as Hsinchu mayor, which was why the searches were conducted at this time. Some reports suggest that Kao asked legislative assistants to delete incriminating LINE messages and destroy other evidence.
It is to be seen if the charges against Kao will affect her inauguration. If Kao were in jail or being questioned, of course, this could delay the date of the inauguration. Moreover, it is possible that Kao would be removed from office over the charges.
In the meantime, it is also to be seen how the TPP and the pan-Blue camp as a whole reacts to the charges. The TPP could simply claim that the charges are a form of pan-Green political persecution directed, but party leader Ko Wen-je, who was until recently the mayor of Taipei, seems wary of how charges could affect the party’s image–hence Tsai’s resignation to prevent scandal from spreading to other parties. This is to be seen. But trying to deny corruption allegations outright and insisting that this is mere pan-Green persecution could perhaps push the party further away from its current “light blue” identity and toward deeper blue identification.