Only in Taiwan – Episode 1

Islamic justice.

I don’t know how it works in every country, but usually when someone gets caught stealing or doing something illegal like money laundering or accepting bribes, that individual is going to have problems. In China, they’ll just execute you. In Sudan, they’ll chop off your hands while you recite verses from the Koran – describing the punishment for thieves. In England, they’ll make you pay back what you stole and swat you on the arse and say, “Bad boy, don’t do that again!” In the U.S., you’re probably going to jail for a while. It usually doesn’t matter who you are. Ask Martha Stewart, Wesley Snipes, or Bernie Madoff. Same goes for politicians – and there’s no reason to say “corrupt politicians” because they are all inherently corrupt. Got some spare time? Check out this list of U.S. politicians convicted of crimes. There’s only one positive thing you can say about the American judicial system: it believes in and excels at punishment.

Taiwan hasn’t really embraced the idea of punishing monetary crimes such as fraud or embezzlement. Double that if it involves a high-ranking government official. Until he leaves office, and then the opposition party miraculously grows fangs and claws. If there is a former or current government official untouched by allegations or straight-up convictions of corruption, I haven’t heard of him. For good reason.

File under: disgraced.

For this part of the story, we need to introduce former Cabinet secretary-general Lin Yi-shih (林益世), President Ma’s one-time right-hand man, and the latest in a long-ass line of officials caught with a paw in the cookie jar.

This guy Lin was a real piece of work. Not only did he take his position seriously, he was notorious for making other people take it seriously, too. Long before he got nailed, Lin was well-known for throwing his weight around, telling friends and foes alike that he and he alone basically ran the government. He reportedly told people, “If you want something done, you gotta go through me to make it happen.”

The corruption scandal ensued after Chen Chi-hsiang (陳啟祥), head of concrete manufacturer Ti Yung Co. (地勇選礦公司), accused Lin of soliciting and accepting bribes. Chen told prosecutors that in 2009, Lin approached him and demanded a 63 million TWD payment in order to keep doing business with China Steel Corp. (中鋼), a government entity. Rather than get cut off from lucrative contracts, Chen paid. Two years later, Lin again cornered Chen, this time demanding 83 million TWD, or the supply of slag Chen needed to make his concrete would be cut off. This time, Chen balked. His slag got cut off, his business went in the toilet, and he started thinking about retaliation, but essentially declared war.

I don’t know how many times I’ve read or heard someone say something along the lines of, “It doesn’t matter who you are, if you cause someone to lose face in Taiwan, there will be retaliation. If you cause someone to lose money, that’s an act of war.” From my experience in the professional and personal idiom, I’ve seen first-hand the difference between mere retaliation and declaration of war. When Lin fucked Chen for not playing ball, he probably should have checked to see who Chen had on his team. If he hadn’t been so brazen and arrogant, perhaps he would have come back to Chen and said, “OK, pal. I can make it happen for fifty-three million. Forget about that eighty-three stuff.”

Chen had two things going for him. The first was guanxi. He had friends in high places who absolutely hated Lin for the exact same reasons everybody else did. The second was a secretly recorded audio tape of a meeting between Lin and Chen, in which Lin basically says everything except the word “bribe.” Lin’s wife, Peng Ai-chia (彭愛佳), can be heard in the background offering tea and making small talk with Chen’s wife. It all sounded so civil and ordinary.

Deny, deny, deny.

With a little help from his friends, Chen went to the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office Special Investigation Division (SID) and ratted on Lin. When news of the allegations broke, of course Lin denied everything. But that lasted maybe a day. Based on the evidence at hand, Lin was detained by the SID and charged with fucking up, big time. He confessed. Lin’s wife, Peng, was also named a defendant in the case but released on $1 million TWD ($33,333US) bail.

Lin’s mother, Shen Juo-lan (沈若蘭), voluntarily turned in $18 million TWD ($603,000US) that she claimed she received from Lin. According to the SID, the $18 million in bills were wet and hard to identify because Shen had stuffed them into plastic bags and thrown them into a pond in her backyard before investigators raided Lin’s residence. Prosecutors searched Lin’s residence for a second time and they seized a furnace and ashes where Shen burned some US dollar bills. Shen also flushed cash down the toilets, which begged the question whether investigators might have to dig up her home’s septic tank to find the rest of the money.

OK, you got me. I did it.

The SID charged Peng and Shen with violation of the Anti-Corruption Act (貪污治罪條例), the Money Laundering Prevention Act (洗錢防制法) and concealment of evidence. Lin was denied bail and is currently sitting somewhere in a jail cell, his fate unknown. That’s because in the 60 days since Lin was detained, despite the overwhelming evidence and confession, the case against him has gone nowhere.

A number of key individuals, including Lin’s father, Lin Hsien-pao (林仙保), and Vice President Wu Den-yih’s (吳敦義) sister-in-law, Hau Ying-chiao (郝英嬌), have yet to be questioned despite their alleged roles in the case. The Taipei District Court granted the SID’s request to extend Lin’s detention on grounds that he might collude with others to provide false testimony and destroy evidence, allowing the SID hold him incommunicado until October 31, 2012.

Just a couple of good pals, out for a ride on their scooter.

The astute reader should see what’s going on here. Considering Lin’s favored status within the Ma administration, it is almost inconceivable that he acted alone or in other words, kept the money for himself. Nuh-uh, that ain’t the way it works. In fact, they have Lin on tape telling Chen that he needed more [for the second bribe] because he had to pay off more people this time around. One of the ironic hallmarks of the Ma administration is its so-called crusade against corruption. When it turns out that one of Ma’s wingmen has been on the take, you can only imagine how far up the food chain the corruption goes.

A recent editorial in Taipei Times suggested that the SID has “no interest in questioning possible accomplices” and scrutinizing funds relating to the bribery – which is not alleged, this fucker admitted it – keeping Lin out of sight for another two months is a smoke-screen. They know that people tend to forget. By stalling on Lin’s case, it allows the SID to proceed behind the scenes with the focus on Lin and avoid taking bigger fish down with him. In American slang, “Lin is taking one for the team.”

Vice President Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) saying, “I got nothin’ to do with this.”

In reality, while it’s a prime opportunity for Ma and the KMT to “put their money where their mouth is” and show that they have the balls to go after one of their own, no matter who it is, that’s exactly what isn’t going to happen. First of all, the administration isn’t interested in eliminating corruption. They’re thinking about decriminalizing it.

Lin, however, is doomed no matter what. As long as he doesn’t roll over on his powerful friends, he’ll get to live out the rest of his life. And even if he does rat on Ma or Wu, the SID won’t let him. There’s no way in hell that shit goes public. Zero chance of that happening. And generally speaking, the people of Taiwan are OK with that. Out of sight, out of mind. We all know these politicians are corrupt. As long as the lights stay on, the average Joe can feed his family, and the island isn’t invaded or bombed by mainland China, the majority of Taiwanese are more than happy to stick their heads back in the sand.

Let it be perfectly, sparklingly clear that Lin is not being punished for his crimes. He will not be held up as an example of what happens to corrupt politicians because nothing happens to corrupt politicians except they go away for a while. Lin is being isolated not for his crimes but for the preservation of all the people who could go down with him. Ma can say corruption will not be tolerated all he wants, but the system is saying, “Corruption will not be televised.”

And here my friends, join me in saying “only in Taiwan…”

Sources-slash-bibliography (unless otherwise hyperlinked)

[1] Paraphrased from Wikipedia article Prostitution in Taiwan.

[2] ibid.

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