by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Kevin Chung/Pxhere/CC0

KMT PENGHU COUNTY speaker Liu Chen Zhao-ling, who has served in office for ten consecutive terms, is set to face corruption charges. The charges will be filed after four months of a confidential investigation conducted by law enforcement.

Liu Chen has been present in Penghu county politics for decades, having originally been elected to the Penghu county council at age 25 around forty years ago. Liu Chen also set records for serving as county speaker for six consecutive terms, meaning that she had served as county speaker for over twenty years.

Liu Chen is primarily accused of accepting bribes. This includes from other sections of government in Penghu, such as the fire department, sanitation department, education, and vehicles department. Liu Chen’s secretary, Chen Shu-mei, was also detained in connection to these actions, with Chen accused of being ordered by Liu Chen to destroy evidence.

Nevertheless, as Chen is reported to have cooperated with the investigation, it has been suggested that she will receive a lighter sentence. By contrast, reports indicate that Liu Chen has not shown much regret over her actions.

Liu Chen is accused of accepting bribes between 100,000 NT and one million NT, while ordering that gas and electricity be cut off to government bureaus that did not engage in such bribery. Liu Chen took kickbacks in return for supporting budgets for departments or the county as a whole. To this extent, Liu Chen took kickbacks in return for pressuring government departments to hire specific individuals. Sometimes the kickbacks took the form of expensive purchases of luxury items, such as purses.

Photo credit: 蕭維澤/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 4.0

Eight other government officials were detained in connection to the case, though they have been released in return for cooperation on deferred prosecution deals. The eight suspects were ordered to pay fines between 50,000 NT and 300,000 NT.

In a similar timeframe, another Penghu county government official, county councilor Ou Chung-kai, as well as his wife Yan Mei-chen were detained on charges of embezzling fees meant to subsidize the hiring of assistants. Close to 2 million NT was embezzled by the two, who have since been released on bail of 1.3 million NT and 1 million NT respectively.

Embezzling funds meant to hire assistants is one of the most common corruption charges in Taiwanese politics, whether this occurs at the city or county councilor level or at the legislative level. Ou was accused of falsely hiring his daughter-in-law as an assistant, but pocketing the funds, when she in fact worked in an electronics store.

Similarly, to Liu Chen, Ou has long been present in Penghu county politics, having served six terms in office. Though Ou was defeated in two prior bids for the legislature in 2008 and 2020, Ou planned to run for legislature again in 2024. The cases point to the significant level of corruption in Penghu, perhaps. Yet, as seen with Liu Chen and Ou, this evidently has not proven an obstacle to holding office.

Indeed, corruption is a deeply-rooted issue at the level of local politics in Taiwan. Apart from embezzlement or kickbacks, a further issue is with regard to the rezoning of protected land for property development or speculation. Before 2020 local elections, incumbent Yilan county magistrate Lin Zi-miao of the KMT was among those hit by such charges. Lin was implicated in property development on formerly protected land that was purchased by a relative after being rezoned.

Otherwise, corruption allegations have themselves been made against law enforcement in outlying islands of Taiwan, in collaboration with local politicians. One case in point is in Matsu, where the Coast Guard is accused of turning a blind eye to the suspected smuggling of Australian rock lobsters to China. To this extent, it is thought that smuggling may take place with the cooperation of local politicians, who may receive kickbacks as part of this.

It is to be seen how such issues of corruption are framed in connection to partisan politics in Taiwan. Although corruption is an issue affecting politicians of both major parties in Taiwan, the pan-Blue camp has increasingly leaned into the defense that the DPP is merely seeking to politically persecute opponents with corruption investigations that take place shortly through elections. In turn, the DPP has to navigate how to not come off as politically persecuting opponents, which may result in a light hand being taken to acts of corruption. This is to be seen, but the issue proves particularly salient in outlying islands of Taiwan all the more sensitive due to proximity with China.

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