Sun, Sep 24, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Know your children well

The story of how the mother-daughter duo Teng Hsiang-mei (鄧香妹) and Chang Yi-hua (張怡華) managed to "extract" an astronomical sum of hush money -- around NT$100 million (US$3 million) in cash and real estate -- from former Straits Exchange Foundation chairman Koo Chen-fu (辜振甫) and his family is truly astounding.

Their ability to persist in claiming that the late Koo had fathered Chang over the past few months despite failing to establish that Chang was a blood relative in two court-supervised DNA tests only makes it more so.

Last week, during the final court hearing before a verdict is handed down on fraud and extortion charges, Teng suddenly and dramatically burst into tears and admitted that Chang is not Koo's daughter.

Teng made headline news once again, and sparked heated discussion over whether the pair should be able to negotiate a plea bargain.

The problem is that there is little admission of guilt here. In the absence of such an admission, how can there be a plea bargain? The key to whether Teng and Chang are guilty as charged is whether they knew that Koo and Chang were not related when they demanded hush money from Koo.

Teng did not say that she knew Chang's father was someone other than Koo during the prolonged period when she demanded and received money.

Her chest pounding and teary performance in court was at most a very reluctant and belated admission of what a series of accurate laboratory tests have shown to be the case. The truth of the matter is that the court would have reached the very same conclusion in the absence of her admission.

As for Chang, she was even less inclined to admit any wrongdoing. She said that she did not realize she was not Koo's daughter until last week when her mother admitted the fact. The degree of faith Chang demonstrated in her mother's words despite the contradictory DNA tests has been impressive.

This mother and daughter team originally said that the DNA results had been fabricated. At the time, some media outlets insisted the two were the subject of "judicial persecution" and influence-peddling by the Koo family.

It has parallels with the cries of judicial and political persecution by pan-blue politicians whenever they run afoul of the law.

On the other hand, it should also not be forgotten that when the news about Teng's claim that Koo had fathered Chang first broke, the media engaged in some wild speculation -- which in retrospect was seriously irresponsible reporting.

One reason cited by some members of the media for believing that Chang was Koo's daughter was that the two "looked very much alike." Photos of Koo, Chang and even Koo's other children were published in several daily newspapers and their facial features compared.

That is what some reporters call "investigative journalism."

The story of Teng and Chang is an important lesson for many in this society, including -- but definitely not limited to -- the media. However, as usual, it is highly unlikely that the media will learn anything from the case.

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