Sun, Nov 05, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: The president must make his case

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 (吳淑珍) and three presidential aides -- Lin Te-hsun (林德訓), Chen Cheng-hui (陳鎮慧) and Ma Yung-cheng (馬永成), who stepped down a few months ago -- late on Friday afternoon, right after the stock market closed.

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) would have been indicted as well, if it wasn't for his presidential immunity. However, he will probably face indictment after he leaves office.

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 (呂秀蓮) in 2004 and in the first lady's Sogo voucher scandal, the indictments offer convincing proof of the impartiality of the judicial system.

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.

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