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Ma denies irregularities in sale of city's TaipeiBank to Fubon

Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou yesterday denied any irregularities or conflicts of interest in the merger of the city-run TaipeiBank and the Fubon Financial Holding Co.

But city councilors and national lawmakers from both the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) accused Ma of selling the bank cheaply to Fubon, demanding prosecutors and the Control Yuan launch probes into the merger.

"I guarantee with my life-long honor that the merging of TaipeiBank and Fubon, and the (planned) selling of (Fubon) shares have never involved influence peddling or insider trading," said Ma at a press conference.

"Otherwise, I will step down to take responsibility," he pledged.

Ma faces the worst crisis of his political career following revelations that Fubon executives entertained him shortly after the city bank closed the merger deal with the private holding firm last year.

The mayor did not try to conceal the fact that he had dined with Fubon executives at the private company's club in Taipei.

But he was forced to make a public apology Thursday for under-reporting the times he had visited the club, a mistake some newspaper reports blamed on his aides who had failed to clearly check the mayor's past itineraries.

The gravity of the row goes beyond the ethical concern about whether government officials should maintain so close a relationship with business interests.

The focus of the case has now turned to the possibility of illegal deals behind the merger deal.

Ma insisted that nothing illegal occurred in the city government's decision to merge the bank with Fubon.

He said his administration had made careful professional assessments before picking Fubon from among five candidates for the merger.

"The rise in the value of Fubon's share has shown that the city government did not sell TaipeiBank cheaply," he said.

He also explained that the city is planning to sell 400 million Fubon shares in order to make up the government deficit, and the plan is still pending approval by the city council.

"My and city officials' dining with Fubon executives took place after TaipeiBank and Fubon signed (the merger deal), and they're just ordinary social functions," said Ma.

"It's like marrying off a daughter, and we hoped the in-laws would treat the daughter nicely," said Ma of the purpose of the dinner gatherings.

"(My appearance) was not meant to make Fubon decide anything, and therefore no business interests received any illegal profits," Ma said.

Admitting he might have been at fault dining with the executives, Ma said he had already ordered his administration's disciplinary officials launch an internal probe.

"I have also directed all city government employees, including myself, to stop going to private companies' clubs in the future for business socializing," he said.

Please see MA on page

He also welcomed investigations by the Control Yuan and prosecutors.

But the city's councilors and national lawmakers from both the DPP and TSU are not letting the mayor off the hook easily.

Four DPP councilors filed a complaint with the Taipei District Prosecutor's Office, demanding an investigation into Ma on corruption charges.

They said the city council in 2002 voted a few times against TaipeiBank's proposed merger with Fubon, but the Ma administration still went ahead with it.

They also asked the Control Yuan to launch a probe. They said the truth had yet to be revealed, judging from the inconsistencies in Ma's revelations about the number of times he had visited the Fubon club.

"As head of the capital city's administration, Ma failed to avoid conflicts of interest, accepting many private invitations to dinners by business interests. His administrative fault is obvious," said the councilors.

The TSU legislative caucus also demanded the highest government watchdog look into the case.

Two watchdog members on Thursday had already decided to launch an investigation.

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