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'Stunned' Lee Chao-ching pleads not guilty

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Lee Chao-ching (李朝卿) said yesterday he is innocent of graft charges and “stunned” by the central government's refusal to reinstate his suspended office.

Last year Lee was detained over a graft probe and suspended from his post as Nantou County magistrate. The Ministry of the Interior (MOI, 內政部) rejected his reinstatement application on Monday.

Lee spoke to press yesterday for the first time since he was freed on bail.

The suspended magistrate, who faces a new Control Yuan probe, said he will continue to defend his innocence while “respecting proceedings.”

He also protested the Interior Ministry's ruling on his reinstatement bid.

County government aides had applied for his return in keeping with all relevant laws and regulations. From the start to finish of his reinstatement bid, not a single central authority gave him directions or voiced concern, he said.

Despite signs that they would approve his return, the Interior Ministry announced the reverse on Monday. “I was stunned,” Lee told media yesterday.

'Irregular'

Lee said the rejection of his return bid is highly irregular: In past cases no interdicted county magistrate or city mayor has been refused the right to return after release on bail.

In another break from precedent, the interior minister has referred his case to the Control Yuan before a court ruling. Protocol calls for cases involving violations of the Civil Service Discipline Act (公務員懲戒法) to receive a court verdict first, according to Lee.

The MOI's choice to punish him prematurely is deeply regrettable, because a nation under the rule of law should consider him innocent until proven guilty, he said.

“Still, I accept the decision with equanimity,” said Lee, adding that he will cooperate fully with the Control Yuan probe.

At the press event yesterday, Lee was accompanied by his attorney, Deputy Nantou Magistrate Chen Tze-ching (陳志清) and 28 county councilors from his party, the ruling Kuomintang.

'Stubborn'

Later yesterday, the major opposition party frowned on Lee's press event, calling it a display of recalcitrance.

“Being stubborn will only give off a bad impression,” said Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) spokesman Lin Chun-hsien (林俊憲), urging Lee to focus on the probe and not the press.

“Right now you should be concentrating on the judicial process. You should adopt a certain attitude and take responsibility before the people of Nantou County,” he said.

According to the DPP, the Interior Ministry's hairpin turn on Lee's reinstatement application had been powered by public opinion. The final decision shows that Taiwan society does not want Lee's return to office, said Lin in Taipei yesterday.

Lee was released on NT$20 million bail last Tuesday, after being held in detention for corruption charges since November 2012. A day after his release on bail, Lee filed an application to be reinstated in the office of Nantou magistrate.

He is accused of over 117 counts of graft valued at some NT$31.7 million, mostly for post-Morakot reconstruction projects and procurement cases for a sports event.

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Nantou County Magistrate Lee Chao-ching (李朝卿), center, Nantou County Magistrate Chen Chih-ching (陳志清), right, and an attorney hold a press conference in Nantou County, yesterday. Lee, who has been suspended from office due to corruption charges, talked about how he felt concerning his recent charges and request for reinstatement being turned down. (CNA)

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