The Chen Corruption Case: A Painful Lesson for Corporate Heads
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
February 17, 2009
Before the Chen Corruption Scandal exploded, who knew people could be so greedy? Before the Chen Corruption Scandal exploded, who knew government/business collusion could be so appallingly ugly?
Ah-Bian and Ah-Chen's power and greed were in direct proportional to each other. The greater their power, the more closely knit their government/business connections, the more insatiable their greed. When they first entered the political arena, they had yet to establish relations with wealthy industrialists. Their sponsors were primarily small and medium business owners who supported the "dang wai" movement. These people were close to the Chen family from early on. But as long as they did not allow themselves to be seduced by Chen Shui-bian's ever-growing power, as long as they did not attempt to gain illicit financial advantage, they were spared involvement in the Chen family's corruption scandals. Those who chose to become Ah-Bian and Ah-Chen's partners in crime, such as Wu Shu-chen's former classmate Tsai Mei-li, long supported each other out of friendship. Their association with the Chen family degenerated to the point where entire families became Chen family accomplices. They brought pressure to bear upon government agencies, they exploited their connections to win sweetheart contracts, they even brokered financial industry deals. By exploiting their political and business connections, they amassed vast sums of illicit wealth.
During Chen Shui-bian's term as Taipei Mayor the Chen family began collecting so-called "campaign contributions." They also began depositing their money offshore. But it wasn't until Chen Shui-bian's first term as president that people discovered to what depths this former crusader against "black gold" politics had sunk, and the depth of his involvement in government/business collusion. Only after the State Affairs Fund scandal erupted, did people realize Chen Shui-bian's self-imposed 50% pay cut upon taking office was an act. The State Affairs Funds the Chen family applied for and obtained using forged receipts far exceeded his salary. The Red Shirt Army movement to end corruption and depose Ah-Bian, held a month long sit-in at Ketagelan Boulevard. Chen Shui-bian blasted those who accused him of corruption. Wu Shu-chen meanwhile quietly busied herself moving money out of the country. This money came out of the pockets of industry tycoons. Based on figures Wu Shu-chen provided the Special Investigation Unit, the funds add up to at least 1.8 billion NT.
Industrial tycoons offered Ah-Bian and Ah-Chen anywhere from tens of millions to hundreds of millions in commissions, bribes, and corporate campaign contributions. The wives of wealthy cronies provided invoices for the State Affairs Fund. Construction company owners provided bribes to building committee jurors and government officials. The chairmen of holding companies involved in the Second Financial Reform scandal, and high-tech company heads, all made pilgrimages to the president's official residence, each with their own motives. Some were extremely wealthy. They merely enjoyed moving about within the circles of power. They considered it a matter of pride to be able to come and go from the president's official residence. These famous tycoons enjoyed showing off before the public. Others may not have wanted anything in particular from the Chen family. But because everyone was giving gifts, why not give one as well? Giving gifts was like taking out an insurance policy. Some may have been in financial straits. Some needed to expand their businesses. Giving large sums of money was like paying an admission price. It was a chance to get oneself out of a financial bind. Their motivations may have been different. Their eventual fates may also be different. For some of them, the jig is already up. For others, the alarms have just been sounded. But at this stage, they all wish they could turn the clock back.
Government/business collusion was not always as appallingly ugly as it was under the Chen regime. During Two Chiangs Era, government and business were kept entirely separate. Any official who dared to open the back door, who accepted entertainment or hospitality from merchants, would be in serious trouble once he was found out. Chiang Ching-kuo had a son-in-law who was a businessman, who brooded for years. When Lee Teng-hui assumed office government and business converged for the first time, he publicly declared "The Government's job is to help capitalists make money." He moved government/business collusion out of the back rooms and put it right on the table, for all the world to see. Government officials dining in public with business leaders became commonplace. KMT party enterprises boss Liu Tai-ying became the man at the heart of the government/business web. But although the gates to "black gold" had been thrown open, few political appointees had the audacity to set prices for government/business collusion. Still less did they have the audacity to secretly launder billions in illicit or illegal funds overseas. .
During the earlier part of Chen Shui-bian's eight years in office, Chen Shui-bian's template for government/business collusion was Lee Teng-hui. During the latter part of his term, the pupil surpassed the teacher. Government/business collusion has expanded from the first generation of wealthy tycoons, to the second generation. They have expanded from traditional industries to the financial industry and high-tech industries. The son of a category three impoverished household became the godfather of both the government and business realms. The result was, from the Presidential Office, through the Executive Yuan, and on down through the various ministries, Chen regime political appointees set a new record for incidents of corruption. Even he and his own family members have become defendants. A man who was once the president is now in jail. The details of his scandal have been circulated around the world. These shocking instances of government/business collusion have gradually been exposed. Admittedly, Chen Shui-bian victimized those corporate leaders. But weren't those corporate leaders also abetting Chen Shui-bian's crimes?
The Chen family scandal has provided us with an object lesson about government/business collusion. Ah-Bian and Ah-Chen's ugly greed has provided posterity with a cautionary tale. The ROC must move toward clean government. Those who wield power will invariably be tempted, but they may not barter power in exchange for wealth. Conversely, business owners must have the courage to "just say no" to those in authority. They may not exchange wealth for illicit business advantage.
The Chen family corruption case has provided a warning to those in authority, and an object lesson to those in business.
2009.02.17 02:19 am