Taiwan watchdog urges probe into president over Taipei Dome

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TAIPEI: A Taiwanese watchdog Friday called for President Ma Ying-jeou to be probed over claims he allowed a company off almost $100 million in payments for a massive Taipei construction project while the city’s mayor.

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The Clean Government Committee has been investigating Ma, whose immunity from prosecution expires next year, for allegedly granting favours to Farglory Land Development Co., which signed the contract with the city government to build the Taipei Dome stadium in 2006.

The project was expected to generate Tw$2.8 billion ($91.21 million) of royalties for city authorities, but the watchdog said it had found evidence Ma and other officials dropped the payments after meeting Farglory’s chairman in 2004.

“Then mayor Ma and Department of Finance commissioner Lee Sush-der cut the royalty to zero… which we considered a serious violation of the law to benefit (Farglory) that prosecutors should investigate,” said Cheng Wen-lung, a member of the committee.

“We recommended the committee to forward Ma and Lee to the Special Investigation Division,” which is in charge of probing high-level corruption, he told reporters.

Ma was Taipei mayor from 1998-2006 before he was elected president in 2008. He is entitled to judicial immunity until his steps down on May 20, 2016 after serving the maximum two four-year terms.

Farglory is also suspected of “inappropriately contacting and influencing” members of the bidding committee over the dome, which was started in 2012 but now faces being scrapped, Cheng added.

Ma rejected the allegations. His office said in a statement “all his actions while serving as Taipei mayor were in accordance with the law and for the welfare of Taipei residents”.

“President Ma strongly expressed his regret. He never benefitted any company… This is political persecution,” the statement said, adding that the committee “deliberately tried to incriminate people”.

Farglory’s chairman Chao Teng-hsiung also rejected the claim and said he was losing money in the Tw$16.6 billion project, which was due to be completed this year but has repeatedly been delayed over safety concerns.

“If the city government thought I am making excessive profit, they can buy it back. I was dragged into this because I wanted to cooperate with government policy,” Chao told reporters.

AFP

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