It is perhaps no coincidence that the Taipei District Prosecutor's Office chose to release its decision to formally indict first lady Wu Shu-jen (
President Chen Shui-bian (
Nevertheless, fears about the potential impact of the indictments on the economy and political stability could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The moment of truth will come tomorrow morning.
The festive mood seen after the indictments were handed down was at least partially prompted by the realization of the strength of the nation's judicial system.
For those who have continued to refuse to accept investigators' findings in regards to the assassination attempt on the president and Vice President Annette Lu (
According to the indictment issued by prosecutor Eric Chen (陳瑞仁) on Friday, Chen and Wu embezzled approximately NT$15 million (US$455,500) from the State Affairs Fund allocated to the Presidential Office. The prosecutor found that, although portions of the fund were used for legitimate reasons, the fact that some receipts were borrowed from other people for reimbursement purposes constituted forgery.
From the very beginning, the president has not denied the use of borrowed receipts to obtain reimbursements from the State Affairs Fund. However, he claimed that the money from the fund was spent on legitimate foreign affairs and missions for which secrecy needed to be maintained, necessitating the use of the borrowed receipts.
After reading the indictment, it seems that Eric Chen is genuinely dealing with this case purely on the basis of evidence and standing by the letter of the law. For instance, whether the use of borrowed receipts to obtain reimbursement for money spent on legitimate secret missions constitutes criminal forgery was a topic of debate during the investigation.
No one denies that the law as written does not make an exception for secret missions. Thus, whether an exception should be made is not a legal question, but a political question. Hence, Eric Chen has followed the letter of the law and indicted the suspects for forgery instead of for illegally dipping into the State Affairs Fund.
Nevertheless, the public is more concerned with the illegal use of the fund than with the issue of borrowed receipts. If the president and first lady indeed spent the money for legitimate reasons ? as the president has repeatedly claimed -- he is due political forgiveness. Although the president may still have to face criminal prosecution for forgery, this is a matter of legal technicality and a blow that can be endured.
The prosecutor's investigation suggests that the president did not use the fund for the legitimate purposes that he has claimed, which is the real issue here. To be more precise, the prosecutor found that four out of the six secret missions for which the president had claimed reimbursement were non-existent.
After the indictment was released, the president reportedly called at least one meeting with Democratic Progressive Party leaders to explain that he did not feel at liberty to divulge much information about the secret missions, which caused the prosecutor to doubt the existence of the missions.
With so much at stake for the nation, President Chen must make his case. If he is telling the truth, he needs to provide proof immediately.
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