New graft claim hits Taiwan's military

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 April, 2009, 12:00am

As the mainland navy displayed its growing might to the world, Taiwan's military was hit by yet another corruption scandal, with a general investigated for alleged irregularities in the purchase of supplies.

The latest scandal prompted even the head of the government watchdog, Wang Chien-shien, to question whether the island's military could be effective in the event of a war.

Led by Lee Chi-che, prosecutor in the Kaohsiung District Prosecutors' Office in southern Taiwan, investigators searched the homes and offices of four suppliers and Lieutenant General Hsu Shang-wen, commander of the navy's marine corps, on Wednesday, officials said yesterday.

Prosecutors questioned the general about alleged favouritism in awarding several million Taiwanese dollars worth of contracts, officials said.

In return, the suppliers allegedly gave expensive gifts and hosted lavish meals for the suspect, who was in charge of buying shoes, towels, sweatshirts and sporting clothes for the military, they said.

Prosecutors were investigating whether the suspect had received kickbacks or bribes, they said.

The Defence Ministry confirmed the investigation yesterday, saying the suspect had violated procurement regulations. It added that the navy would closely co-operate with judicial authorities. 'If [Hsu] was found to have been involved ... we would deal with the case with severe punishment regardless of the rank or post,' it said.

The scandal emerged about two weeks after prosecutors indicted former Reserve Command deputy director Yuan Hsiao-lung, a lieutenant general, for allegedly accepting expensive gifts and other entertainment from military contract broker Lin Chih-chung. Yuan was also charged with trying to pay NT$6 million (HK$1.4 million) to get promoted and extorting NT$500,000 from his subordinate to buy a car.

Taiwanese media also reported that prosecutors had studied whether a dozen other military officers had paid for promotions under Chen Shui-bian's presidency. Taiwan's president, Ma Ying-jeou, said it was time to 'peel the skin' off the military to straighten it up.

Mr Wang, of the watchdog Control Yuan, ordered a thorough investigation yesterday into the military's procurement, personnel and disciplinary systems. 'Would our troops be able to fight in the war at all, especially when everything, including the rank of general, could be bought?'