Taiwan targets former gang leader over 'China funding'

Taipei (AFP) –


Investigators in Taiwan have searched the home and party offices of a pro-China former gang leader known as "White Wolf" in a probe over donations ahead of key elections.

It comes as concerns grow about the involvement of organised crime in politics and escalating tensions between Taipei and Beijing.

China has long tried to influence politics on the self-governing island, which it claims as part of its territory.

Last month, the website of the ruling party was breached allegedly by Chinese hackers and there were also security breaches leading up to the 2016 presidential elections.

"White Wolf", whose real name is Chang An-lo, previously headed one of Taiwan's biggest gangs before rebranding himself as a pro-China political activist.

Chang is known for his pro-unification stance and his Chinese Unity Promotion Party (CUPP) regularly organises rallies in support of Beijing.

"We indeed conducted a search of the CUPP headquarters and residence of the main suspects for possible violation of the political donations act," Chou Shih-yu, a spokesman for the Taipei District Prosecutors' Office, told AFP on Wednesday.

Chou declined to provide further details as the investigation is ongoing.

Local media reported that authorities had been investigating since last September whether CUPP's finances originate from the Chinese government, which is against the law.

Chang claims his party's funds are all from his own company.

"My money doesn't come from any government... The money is from our own factory, our own company. How I use it is my business, not yours," he told reporters Tuesday after the police search.

The police rounded up more than 300 suspected gang members in May, confiscating illegal weapons and drugs, in a sweep it said was aimed at preventing manipulation of island-wide local elections in November.

Chang was imprisoned for 10 years in the US for drug trafficking and then lived in exile for 17 years in China before returning to Taiwan in 2013.

Members of his party were accused of attacking Taiwanese independence supporters and Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong when he visited Taipei in January 2017.

The elections in November are seen as an important barometer of popular support for the ruling independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) or the China-friendly Kuomintang.