Ex-aide to president cleared in graft case

The China Post staff

The Kaohsiung District Court yesterday sentenced two foreign labor brokers — Wang Tsai-pi and her husband Yen Shih-hua — to four years and three years and six months in jail respectively for breach of trust.

But the court cleared ex-presidential aide Chen Che-nan of wrongdoing linked to a Taiwan subway project that sparked a revolt of hired Thai workers. Prosecutors said Yen, his wife, who ran two labor brokerage firms that import foreign workers into Taiwan, had used the influence of Chen Che-nan to urge workers from Thailand to take part in the construction of a mass rapid transit system in the southern port city of Kaohsiung.

Chen carried tremendous political clout when serving as deputy secretary-general to current President Chen Shui-bian.

The two co-defendants admitted that they provided Chen Che-nan with overseas trips to Thailand and South Korea. But the court ruled that Chen was not guilty of misusing his power to accept favors in exchange for help in winning the subway construction contracts. The prosecutor had no sufficient evidence to prove that the hospitality Chen Che-nan received was related to his position and the winning of construction contracts, a court spokesman said.

Prosecutors said they will decide whether to appeal the court ruling after studying the verdict.

The case was brought to public light after a group of Thai subway workers set their dormitory on fire, burned cars and threw rocks at police in August 2005 during a violent protest of what they claimed were poor living and working conditions.

The riot halted construction for days, costing the subway company an estimated NT$1.36 million in lost wages and NT$2.57 million in management losses. The revolt prompted an investigation that uncovered the connections between Chen Che-nan and the two defendants. Under public pressure, former Chairwoman Chen Chu of the Council of Labor Affairs and Acting Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chi-mai — son of Chen Che-nan — both resigned to take responsibility for the riot and the ill-treatment of foreign workers. Chen Chi-mai has taken over his father’s position as President Chen’s deputy chief of staff. Chen Chu of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won a hotly contested election last December to become Kaohsiung mayor. But the Kaohsiung District Court nullified her victory for allegedly using improper tactics to defame her opponent on the eve of voting. She is appealing the court ruling.

Prosecutors had sought a jail term of eight years for Chen Che-nan

A guilty court verdict for her could have affected Frank Hsieh, who formerly served as Kaohsiung mayor and is now the DPP candidate for president in the March 2008 election. But Chen Che-nan’s legal troubles are not over yet. In a separate case, he was sentenced last year to 12 years in prison for using his position to help lift a 14-year jail term for a real estate developer in exchange for a NT$6 million bribe.

He is still appealing the ruling.

Scams involving President Chen’s aides and family members have undermined his reputation and public rating.

His wife and several other aides were indicted for allegedly embezzling money from the presidential state affairs account. Chen’s son in-law Chao Chien-ming was convicted by the Taipei District Court for using his unique position to take part in insider trading. He was sentenced to eight years in prison. After Chao appealed the case, the Taiwan High Court increased the sentence to 10 years. Chao’s father was also convicted and sentenced in the same case, although he attempted to take the blame for his son.