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May 29, 2017

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Anti-corruption agents make progress, but job is not done

The detention of Farglory Group Chairman Chao Teng-hsiung (趙藤雄) and Taoyuan County Deputy Magistrate Yeh Shih-wen (葉世文) on bribery charges is a milestone in Taiwan's fight for a cleaner government on several levels.

First of all, it marks the first big prosecution case brought by the nation's new top graft-blaster, the Agency Against Corruption (AAC). Since its establishment in July 2011, the effectiveness of the AAC has been questioned. The public and the press (including this newspaper) have questioned the wisdom of setting up the anti-corruption body under the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) instead of forming an independent agency. The Independent Commission Against Corruption from Hong Kong and the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau from Singapore, which served as inspiration for the AAC, are both independent organizations reporting directly to their heads of government. One year after the establishment of the AAC, Executive Yuan Secretary-General Lin Yi-shih confessed to prosecutors that he had taken millions in bribes. Lin was exposed not by the AAC, but by Next Magazine. He had served as one of the most senior officials of the Executive Yuan, the supervising body of the MOJ — AAC's supervising agency.

Indeed, for most of its three years of existence, the public was not impressed by the AAC's track record. The agency was not involved in major corruption investigations such as the Lin case or the bribery allegation against Taipei Legislator Lai Su-ju (賴素如). It was once ridiculed as an agency not for fighting corruption but for holding road runs (it held one days after the Lin case).

In this light, the agency's investigation resulting in the prosecution of Taoyuan's deputy chief and the confession of one of Taiwan's most famous tycoons comes as vindication for the AAC. Chao is arguably the nation's best known real estate boss and one of its most powerful people. He is believed to have enjoyed not only good relations with government officials but also, to a degree, with the press thanks to the real estate industry's substantial investments in advertising. Huang Jhe-bin (黃哲斌), a freelance writer and former newspaper journalist, pointed out that real estate firms are by far the biggest newspaper ad buyers. "Even big-name newspapers that claimed to be heavy-handed in revealing corruption" must defer to real estate firms, Huang pointed out. It is only through careful planning and courage against pressure that AAC investigators were able to build a solid case that left Chao no choice but to confess.

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