How New York Real Estate Became a Dumping Ground

The interior of an apartment on West 56th Street in Manhattan priced at $100 million (AP Photo/Prudential Douglas Elliman, Evan Joseph)

During Chen Shui-bian’s second term as Taiwan’s president, several people lugged five or six fruit boxes into the presidential residence in Taipei. Inside the crates was 200 million in New Taiwan Dollars (about US $6 million) courtesy of Yuanta Securities, a financial firm involved in a contested merger.

Intended as a bribe for first lady Wu Shu-jen—with the hope she would prevail upon her husband to intervene on Yuanta’s behalf—the cash followed a circuitous path thereafter. It was held in a bank vault in Taipei along with other piles of loose cash that the first lady described as “political donations.” Later, much of the cash in the vault was stuffed into seven suitcases and stored in a basement at the home of a Yuanta executive. It was moved through banks in Hong Kong and the United States, then landed in a Swiss account controlled by the first couple’s son.

In the spring of 2008, a chunk of that money was wired into an account in Miami, where it was used to buy a $1.6 million apartment in Manhattan’s Onyx Chelsea, a residential and commercial tower described by its promoters as “an elegantly-layered sculpture of glass, metal and granite illuminated at night by vertical bands of light.” Amenities included radiant-heated bathroom floors and rooftop terraces with dramatic views of the Empire State Building.

The journey of Wu Shu-jen’s ill-gotten cash illustrates one of New York’s dirty secrets: high-end real estate in the city is an alluring destination for corrupt politicians, tax dodgers and money launderers around the globe.

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