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International Business : Enigmatic Taiwanese Millionaire at Center of Stock Scandal Storm : Trading: Few seem to believe Oung Ta-ming's claims that the only thing he plays these days is video games.

October 27, 1994|From Associated Press

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Oung Ta-ming insists he's out of the stock market and into playing video games. But few believe him.

In the past two weeks, the enigmatic millionaire has been at the center of a storm over an alleged stock manipulation that stunned the Taiwanese stock market, jolted the political establishment and forced the firing of a legislator.

It even turned bloody when a fellow legislator stabbed himself on a podium in a highly theatrical declaration of innocence.

Five executives of two brokerages owned by Oung's Hualon Group have been detained, police have raided Oung's home and offices, and investigators say they are uncovering an intricate web of mutual back-scratching among business people and politicians.

On Saturday, the Bureau of Investigation, Taiwan's crime-busting agency, summoned Oung on suspicion of masterminding the stock manipulation, but Oung did not show up for interrogation.

None of this is new to the freewheeling Taiwanese business world. But it has shocked a government that hoped the bad old days of corruption and market manipulation were gone and that Taiwan could claim respectability in the global marketplace.

The scandal emerged in early October when two brokerages controlled by Oung's group defaulted on $120 million in loans taken out to finance stock purchases.

The market immediately went into a five-day tailspin in which its main index plunged 15% to 6,124.71 points on Oct. 11, before beginning a slow recovery.

Investigators say they are convinced Oung was behind the default. Dubbed the "Warrior in the Shadows" for his ability to move the market, Oung is alleged to have pushed up stock in Imperial Hotel more than fivefold over a year, to $14.80 in August.

That price was so high, investigators say, that he could no longer attract small investors to help keep the bubble intact.

Oung, 44, built a textile, electronics and real estate empire out of an inherited pig farm. He now claims to have dropped out of Hualon's operations and the stock market years ago and says he spends much of his time playing video games.

Most Taiwanese are skeptical.

In 1992, Oung was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison for selling unlisted stocks cheaply to a politician's daughter.

Oung promptly got himself elected as an independent legislator, but he was rarely seen in the chamber, prompting suspicions that he ran for office simply to stave off imprisonment. He has yet to serve his sentence.

The latest affair took on a strong political hue when investigators who raided Oung's offices Oct. 6 were confronted by about 30 lawmakers from all political parties. Many of them tried to stop authorities from seizing documents.

This led to accusations that the lawmakers were implicated in the stock scandal. One of them, Hou Hai-hsiung, was dismissed by his opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which was anxious to protect its corruption-busting image.

Yeh Hsien-hsu, an independent, stunned the legislature by mounting the podium and stabbing himself in the arm, shouting that he wanted to spell out his innocence in blood.

Justice Minister Ma Ying-jeou pledged a full-scale crackdown and dismissed claims that he might be pressured to protect the politicians.

Oung emerged for a rare news conference, protesting that he only wanted to help his fellow legislators and declaring that "not everything is done with a profit motive."

Linin Day, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, saw a bright side to the affair, saying it offered an opportunity to drive "the street rats" out of the market once and for all.

"The big players used to be honored and followed as Robin Hood-type heroes," he said. "Investors must become more mature and rational now."

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