by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Ann Kao/Facebook

HSINCHU MAYOR Ann Kao of the TPP has been indicted over corruption charges. Kao is the TPP’s only mayor, having previously served as a legislator for the pan-Blue third party, whose presidential candidate is former Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je.

These charges date back to her stint as a legislator. In particular, Kao is accused of fraud and corruption over falsely registering her partner, Lee Chung-ting, as a legislative assistant. Kao is accused, then, of pocketing the public fees that were paid out to subsidize Lee’s salary, seeing as legislators and city councilors are given subsidies by the government to pay for the salaries of their assistants.

Embezzling subsidies meant for paying assistants is one of the most common forms of corruption that legislators and city or county councilors face legal charges for. For example, just this month, former New Taipei DPP deputy speaker Chen Wen-chih came under fire on corruption charges for fraudulently reporting assistants in order to pocket the fees meant for their salaries. When this form of corruption scandal happens, it is usually due to the individuals listing relatives or friends as assistants. Chen was detained and questioned incommunicado.

Hsinchu mayor Ann Kao (center). Photo credit: Ann Kao/Facebook

Kao claiming Lee as her assistant was criticized because Lee made more than 6 million NT per year at the Yonglin Foundation, the foundation run by Foxconn founder Terry Gou. Kao originally joined the TPP due to her links with Gou, as a confidant of his, even if there are rumors that the two have become more distant. Lee, too, is linked to Gou.

Yet the embezzlement accusations raised eyebrows not only because of Lee’s reportedly high salary, while legislative assistants only make 26,000 NT per month, making this an undue high amount of risk for a small amount of money. News reports also honed in on that Lee was initially reported as married.

To this extent, Kao is accused of docking the salaries of her actual legislative aides for personal expenses. In the past, Kao defended these contributions as voluntary in nature. Three of Kao’s legislative office directors will also face charges for aiding Kao. This is not the first time that politicians have faced such charges regarding the salaries of their assistants either, with independent pan-Green Taipei city councilor Lin Ying-meng previously having faced charges over docking the salaries of her assistants from purported violations.

Kao is accused of misusing 460,000 NT in public funds, then. Charges against Kao are severe enough that she faces up to seven years in prison.

Kao could potentially be removed from office if found guilty in the first instance, following which the current deputy mayor will assume her position. If the court of the second instance reverses the decision, she can take office again, but if the court of the second instance upholds the decision, Kao will be removed from office and a by-election will take place to fill the mayoral position vacated by Kao. But if Kao has less than two years remaining in her term, the Executive Yuan will appoint an official to serve Kao’s remaining term.

Kao is also facing charges over plagiarism of government-sponsored research, which she is accused of plagiarizing for her Ph. D dissertation at the University of Cincinnati. When Kao faced such charges, she was one of a host of Taiwanese politicians to face accusations of plagiarism. Nevertheless, prosecutors did not indict her on such charges due to insufficient evidence.

Photo credit: Ann Kao/Facebook

For her part, Kao has framed the charges against her as politically motivated. Consequently, Kao has vowed to uphold her innocence.

Claiming political corruption has increasingly become a defense of the pan-Blue camp in the event of corruption charges, whether this is regarding embezzling subsidies meant for assistants, or corruption on land deals. This has especially been the case after the Tsai administration’s investigation into party assets of the KMT retained since the authoritarian case.

The KMT dug its heels in deep on the issue when a host of KMT politicians faced corruption charges in the 2022 local elections, with the most prominent charges facing Yilan county magistrate Lin Zi-miao, Hualien legislator Fu Kun-chi, and Fu’s wife Hualien county commissioner Hsu Cheng-wei. It is to be seen how the TPP, which has sought to build an image for itself as less tainted by corruption compared to the KMT, will seek to handle the charges against Kao. Nevertheless, as the party already framed the charges against Kao in the last set of elections as political targeting, it is expected to take this line again going forward.

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