Whistling past the graveyard

The China Post news staff

Former President Chen Shui-bian seems totally unfazed by the dark shadows cast ominously over him by the long arm of the law as a growing coterie of suspects wanted by the judiciary for alleged corruption involving Chen is being caught. On Wednesday, former interior minister Yu Cheng-hsien, a close confidante of the former president and his wife, was intercepted at Kaohsiung’s international airport while trying to fly to Macau one day before his scheduled court appearance. He was detained in the evening after the Taipei Prosecutors Office won a court order to detain him and hold him incommunicado for his implication in a bribe-taking case in connection with the construction of the multibillion-dollar Nankang Exhibition Hall in Taipei. Yu is the highest-ranking former official detained by the Prosecutors Office in the on-going investigation of Chen Shui-bian’s alleged money laundering scandal. Chen’s other confidante and protege, Investigation Bureau Director Yeh Sheng-mao, was detained on Oct. 6 for tipping off to Chen a confidential memo from Switzerland about the first family’s overseas bank accounts. Yeh told the prosecutors that he showed the memo to Chen in February and did nothing in response to the memo which sought clarification of Chen’s bank accounts.

So far, nine suspects in the case are under detention, including Wu Ching-mao, brother of former first lady Wu Shu-chen, who is the prime suspect of the whole scandal. The “first brother-in-law” is suspected of acting as the middleman for receiving bribes at home and remitting them abroad to bank accounts under the names of Chen Shui-bian’s son and daughter-in-law, according to media reports. The detention of Yu Cheng-hsien was seen as a major development, if not a breakthrough in the marathon investigation. For one thing, it shows the judiciary is serious in dealing with the scandalous case. For another, Chen Shui-bian may not be able to save his own skin if the evidence is against him. Now, the evidence is unfavorable to him. One of the detainees, Kuo Chuan-ching, chairman of Li Tuo Construction Company, which tried to win the bid for the Nankang Exhibition Hall Project by means of bribery, has plea-bargained for his release with a full confession. That confession may include vital information about who, where, when, and how his NT$90 million bribe was dished out to win the contract. Presumably, that is why Yu Cheng-hsien was ordered detained for only after 25 minutes of questioning. With Yu’s detention, the dragnet is closing in. The former president, a shrewd lawyer and never a quitter, knows he must not give up without a fight. It is not over until it’s over. For the past couple of weeks, he has become sort of a prophet, predicting without looking into the crystal ball: “My son and my daughter-in-law will be arrested the next time,” he told rallies of loyal supporters. “They will get me before Oct. 25.” That is the date for a massive protest organized by the DPP against the visit by a mainland China official and tainted dairy products from mainland China. He is trying to turn the judicial case into a political issue, accusing the judiciary of “political persecution.” He argued that the money in his family’s overseas bank accounts is to be used for “public good.” But few would believe in this mendacious politician, not even some of his former comrades. Tuan Yi-kang, the young maverick who is a member of the DPP’s Central Standing Committee, said this week that he could not agree with Chen’s justification for remitting money overseas. The scandal has hurt the image of the DPP, whose core value was clean politics. The struggling former president is still able to grab headlines. He has been getting more limelight than incumbent president Ma Ying-jeou. But to many of his countrymen, he’s just whistling past the graveyard.