Taiwan president's confidante disciplined by party

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang party on Monday suspended the membership of Lai Su-ju, a confidante of the island's president, for her alleged involvement in a high-profile corruption scandal.

Lai's "implication in the case has violated the party's rules against corruption and has spoiled the party's image", the party led by President Ma Ying-jeou said in a statement.

"The disciplinary committee unilaterally decided to have her party membership temporarily terminated," it said.

Mr Ma, who rose to power on an anti-corruption platform, apologised last week after Lai, a member of Taipei City Council, was implicated in graft allegations over a NT$70 billion (S$2.9 billion) construction project in the capital.

Lai was detained on Saturday 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, Lai has admitted accepting NT$1 million from a businessman but claimed that it was a political donation rather than a bribe.

Lai, 49, was a rising star in the Kuomintang and formerly its spokeswoman.

As a lawyer, she has represented the president and other top politicians in several major court cases.

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

Observers said Lin's case dealt a heavy blow to Mr Ma, who had an approval rate of just 14 per cent in the latest poll by cable news network TVBS in February. He was re-elected for a second and final four-year term in Jan 2012.

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.

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