The U.S. Justice Department filed civil forfeiture complaints Wednesday against U.S. properties of the former president of Taiwan and his wife that were purchased using the proceeds of illegal bribes.
Former Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian and his wife, Wu Shu-Jen were convicted in Taiwan in September 2009 for bribery, embezzlement and money laundering. They are currently sentenced to 20 years in prison. The couple are also currently under indictment in Taiwan for additional alleged acts of corruption and money laundering.
The forfeiture filings are part of the U.S. government’s increasingly aggressive efforts to crack down on international corruption. The Justice Department has made robust efforts to go after bribe-payers using the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which criminalizes paying bribes to foreign officials. Today’s complaints indicate that bribe-takers are fair game as well.
“This serves as a warning to those corrupt foreign officials who abuse their power for personal financial gain and then attempt to place those funds in the U.S. financial system,” John Morton, Homeland Security Director for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in a news release. “ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations agents will continue to work with our law enforcement partners both here and abroad to investigate and prosecute those involved in such illicit activities and hold corrupt foreign officials accountable by denying them the enjoyment of their ill gotten gains.”
The forfeiture actions were filed in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York and the Western District of Virginia.
According to the release, the former first lady transferred millions in bribes paid to her through shell companies created in the British Virgin Islands and the Island of Nevis, which held Swiss bank accounts controlled by her son, Chen Chih-Chung. Chung used a portion of the bribe proceeds to buy a condominium in Manhattan and a house in Keswick, Va. He and his wife, Huang Jui-Ching, concealed their ownership of the properties, the release said.
The bribes stem from the efforts of Yuanta Securities Co. Ltd. (YSC) to increase its ownership share of Fuhwa Financial Holding Company Limited (FFHC) in Taiwan. Wu was paid a bribe of 200 million New Taiwan dollars, or approximately $6 million U.S. dollars, to ensure that authorities in Taiwan would not interfere with the deal.
According to the complaints, a YSC chief executive told Taiwanese prosecutors that it was common knowledge that “one must get consent from Madam” — meaning businesses needed the consent of the then-first lady if it wanted the government’s help. The “on-going rate” was 200 million NTD sent to the official residence of the President of Taiwan. The cash was delivered in five or six fruit boxes. In her testimony to Taiwanese prosecutors, Wu characterized the payment as a “political contribution.”
The former first couple challenged their convictions, which were upheld on appeal and are now pending before the Supreme Court in Taiwan.
In August 2008, Chen Chih-Chung and Huang Jui-Chin were convicted of money laundering charges based on their participation in this and other schemes. Chen, who also used the alias Bryan Chen, is currently sentenced to 14 months in prison while his wife faces 12 months in prison. Both are also indicted in Taiwan on additional money laundering charges.
According to the news release, the Justice Department and ICE worked closely with the Taiwan Supreme Prosecutors Office, Special Investigation Division to gather and exchange evidence. The case is being prosecuted by Deputy Chief Linda M. Samuel and Trial Attorney Robert Stapleton of the Criminal Division’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section.
Aruna Viswanatha contributed to this report.
The civil forfeiture complaints are embedded below.