This year has been an annus horribilis for some of Taiwan's richest men. Long accustomed to absolute obedience in their corporate domains and chummy access to political power, they are now finding themselves on trial, on the run from the law and under unwanted scrutiny from the media. Far Eastern Group chairman Douglas Hsu rules over a vast empire of airlines, hotels, construction companies and department stores. But Taiwan's courts ruled in August that a subsidiary had been unfairly awarded an enormous contract to build and operate an electronic toll-collection system on Taiwan's freeways. Meanwhile, Hsu has been indicted on criminal charges for his role in a disputed attempt to take over Taiwan's biggest department store chain. Hsu's legal problems pale, though, when compared with those of Jeffrey Koo Jnr, once the heir apparent to one of Taiwan's biggest banking fortunes. Koo is now on Taiwan's most-wanted list, for failing to return to Taiwan in November after prosecutors issued a warrant for his arrest. They are investigating regulatory violations in the takeover of a state-owned bank that he orchestrated. This week saw billionaire Terry Gou's Hon Hai Precision Industry taking out front page ads in Taiwan's major newspapers. He was explaining how a 32-year-old journalist attempted to extort US$1 million from him in return for not writing an expose of Hon Hai's business practices. Mr Gou's account seems credible, since the journalist was arrested on criminal charges after she attempted to collect the cash, and her boyfriend fled the island. But Hon Hai has a history of trying to silence media critics both here and in mainland China with lawsuits. The disproportionate ferocity of its response is making people wonder what the firm is hiding, and whether the journalist was set up, as she claims. Either way, the case is drawing much unwanted attention to Hon Hai, an information technology manufacturer that BusinessWeek magazine once called 'the most important company you have never heard of'. Now the media is openly discussing allegations that Hon Hai has evaded taxes, exploited workers and harassed critics. Like Taiwan's politicians, its tycoons are beginning to be held to higher ethical and legal standards, as the intricate web of corrupt practices that once bound government and big business begins to unravel. The importance of personal relationships, or guanxi, is often impressed on students of Chinese business, and Taiwan's corporate titans sometimes act as if they believe those relationships put them above the law. Now they are learning the hard way that they, too, can be held accountable.