Sat, Nov 11, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Johnny Neihu's NewsWatch: I pronounce you guilty of confusion

Forget corruption; the biggest problem with the investigation into the first lady, presidential aides and the president himself is that no one seems to know when perjury is committed. Unless it's in the national interest. Or maybe not. Or something.

By Johnny Neihu 強尼內湖

As if there were anything else to talk about this week. Yes, evidence has begun to mount that the "son of Taiwan" has stolen the keys to dad's car and taken his friends on a joyride after all.

Nobody's been convicted, but prosecutors said last week that they were bringing indictments against first lady Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍) and three presidential aides. President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) is next once he's out of office.

But Chen isn't going without a fight. Speculation that he would step down voluntarily was ended on Sunday with another hour-plus televised speech/linguistic extravaganza. Chen once again defied his monolingual critics by feeling no compulsion to finish his sentences in the same language.

Chen drew on his legal training to present a defense that no doubt sent the prosecutor scrambling to draw up a new strategy for the trial. A-bian countered with lines like "Why on earth would I ever want money?"; "I can't tell you where the money went because it's a secret" and "Sometimes it's alright for the president to lie." Well, I'm sold.

To legal novices it sounded like another rambling diatribe that didn't address the issue. But in fact, Chen was defending the right to commit perjury. The China Post reported last Saturday that prosecutors charged former Presidential Office deputy secretary-general Ma Yung-cheng (馬永成) with forgery, not perjury, because "prosecutors had questioned him as a `defendant,' who was allowed to lie in self-defense."

Let's all take a moment to go back and read that sentence again.

But don't worry if you're feeling confused by these legal ins and outs. Apparently the nation's leaders don't have any idea what's going on, either. Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) said on Tuesday that only Chen and former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) have any idea how the fund works and that she "never used state affairs funds, nor do I even understand what they are used for or how they're used."

Well, that's comforting. So there's at least one good reason not to recall Chen: If he steps down, who will explain to the vice president how the government works?

I can only imagine what the scene would be on Lu's first day in office:

Lu: I need you to send this fax to the premier.

Secretary: That's impossible.

Lu: Why?

Secretary: Only Lee and Chen understand the murky operations of the fax machine.

Let's recap what we know about the "state affairs fund." It seems to have been designed to be so secret and shady that only those at the very top have any idea how it works. There is no oversight mechanism to check the president's use of the fund. If investigators question you about it, it's OK to lie to them.

You know, call me crazy, but it's almost as if the system were designed by some corrupt political regime prior to the Chen administration to make it easier for leaders to steal national funds.

On Tuesday, Chen seemed to back this up: "Before I took over the presidency, many of the president's secret funds did not conform to accounting and auditing regulations, but I never questioned them as being irregular or corrupt."

Chen's biggest mistake appears to have been being naive enough to think he would get away with the same perks that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) had. Either that or he is the most incompetent embezzler in the history of politics.

But the alleged instances of graft are so poorly conceived that they could only be committed by someone who thought he didn't need to cover his tracks. Here is my favorite: Chen says he had to borrow money from one of his friends for an important diplomatic initiative and paid him back out of the fund later. Yes, that's right, the president was running short on cash and needed his buddy to spot him a couple of bucks to conduct affairs of state. Just amazing.

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