Taiwan president's confidant detained on graft claims

TAIPEI (AFP) - A Taiwanese politician known for her close ties with the president has been taken into custody on suspected corruption, a court said on Saturday, in the latest graft scandal to hit the island.

Ms Lai Su-ju, a member of the Taipei City Council, was detained on the grounds that she could collude with witnesses and other suspects in the case to cover up the alleged crime, the Taipei district court said in a statement.

According to the court, she has admitted to accepting NT$1 million (S$41,570) from a businessman but claimed that it was a political donation rather than a bribe in connection with a construction project in the capital Taipei.

Local media said Ms Lai solicited at least NT$10 million and took the NT$1 million as a downpayment for her help to facilitate the NT$70 billion project, although prosecutors declined to confirm.

President Ma Ying-jeou on Friday apologised after Ms Lai was implicated in the island's latest corruption scandal and urged her to "bravely face the judiciary to clarify the case and reveal the truth".

The 49-year-old was a rising star in the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party and formerly served as its spokeswoman. As a lawyer, she has represented the president and other top politicians in several high-profile court cases.

She became the second KMT politician with close links to the president to be implicated in a corruption scandal since October, when former party vice-chairman and cabinet secretary-general Lin Yi-shih was indicted on graft charges.

Observers said Ms Lin's case dealt a heavy blow to Mr Ma, who was re-elected for a second and final four-year term last year pledging to fight corruption.

Taiwan has been rocked by a string of corruption cases involving top officials in recent years, including ex-president Chen Shui-bian who is currently serving a 20-year jail term on multiple graft convictions.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.