TAIPEI - The man at the centre of the most notorious sex scandal to rock Taiwan in years has claimed trial, beginning what is expected to be a long legal battle to clear his name.
Looking visibly thinner than before and limping slightly from his foot cuffs, one-time party boy Justin Lee walked solemnly into a Taipei district court yesterday morning to claim trial for allegedly raping more than 30 women - among them models, actresses and a television host - and filming the acts, in a case that has riveted Taiwan for months.
Lee, who had been in remand for the past four months, was dressed in a white shirt and black padded jacket and sported long, straggly hair. He looked older than his 27 years.
He admitted to "doing wrong" but pleaded not guilty to 28 counts of various degrees of sexual assault and 17 counts of privacy violation at the closed-door hearing, where five minutes of footage from some of the sex clips Lee is said to have recorded himself were played, his lawyer told reporters.
"Lee believes he did not commit the crimes he is accused of by the prosecution. He also wants to tell the media that he admits to doing wrong, but he is no criminal," lawyer Wen Wen said.Mr Wen added that he wished to examine all the videos in the possession of the prosecution, a request which the judge approved.Lee has maintained that his alleged victims had sex with him willingly.
He has also accused some of them of being gold-diggers who threw themselves at him because of his wealth.
Lee's father Lee Yueh-tsang is a billionaire businessman, while his mother is a nightclub boss who gave birth to him out of wedlock.
The scandal broke in August after Next Magazine published an expose, which alleged that the women involved included celebrities such as Maggie Wu, Terri Kwan, Bianca Bai and Ruru Lin.Police then said they had been investigating Lee since July last year after a woman reported that she had been drugged, raped and filmed by Lee.
Although that accusation was thrown out by the court for insufficient evidence, investigators uncovered clips of 32 women having sex with Lee.Of these, six appeared to have been drugged; three were forced into the act; nine showed signs of resistance; and 10 women appeared to be delirious or unconscious.United States-educated Lee, who was often photographed having fun at nightclubs and was seen as a "golden bachelor", promptly went on the run, as photographs and clips of the videos he allegedly made spread like wildfire on the Internet.
The most recognisable face, Maggie Wu, a 28-year-old model who had a short relationship with Lee four years ago, disappeared from public view and remains in seclusion.
Lee evaded an islandwide manhunt for three weeks by seeking refuge at a friend's home in the western county of Changhua. He finally surrendered to police on Aug 22.
The friend who had taken him in - 47-year-old insurance agent Chen Mei-lan - will be sentenced on Monday for harbouring a suspected criminal.
After yesterday's hearing, Lee was escorted back to the Taipei Detention Centre where he shares a 5.95 sq m cell with another detainee.
The date for his next hearing has yet to be announced.If found guilty of all the charges, he could be jailed for up to 30 years.