Wed, Aug 15, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Ma verdict raises more questions

The pan-blue camp has been revitalized by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou's (馬英九) acquittal on corruption charges over his handling of his special allowance fund as Taipei mayor. But they shouldn't start celebrating too soon, as the decision by no means puts Ma on the express train to victory next March.

Judge Tsai Shou-hsun (蔡守訓) ruled that "the mayoral allowance is, in nature, a substantial subsidy" and that "the total of Ma's public donations far exceeded the amount of the special allowance and therefore Ma had no illegal intentions, nor did he employ trickery to mislead accounting or auditing personnel, nor did he think to damage the Taipei City's interests. Therefore, in terms of legal requirements, Ma had no criminal intent and his actions do not constitute `using opportunities afforded by one's office to defraud' or the criminal charge of `public breach of trust.'"

However, as there still is no uniform definition for the nature of the mayoral allowance, and as the initial ruling is just the legal interpretation of the judge, Prosecutor Hou Kuan-jen (侯寬仁) will likely file an appeal. So Ma has only cleared the first legal hurdle.

Although the ruling interprets the mayoral allowance as a subsidy, half of the receipts drawn on the allowance must still be verified and accounted for. This clearly demonstrates that these are not funds that mayors can spend on private expenses without any restrictions, use for non-official purposes or put into their pockets. Therefore, Tsai's interpretation is still debatable.

Saying Ma had no criminal intent because the amount of money he donated exceeded his special allowance conflates cause and effect. Most of Ma's donations were made after the special allowance scandal broke and were a measure to remedy his mistakes. Buying indulgences doesn't mean the sin was not committed in the first place.

Moreover, the court based its ruling only on a formal examination of the main documents in the case without looking into the true nature of the charges.

Ma has escaped punishment because he listened to his lawyer and insisted that he thought that the special mayoral allowance was a private fund. By doing so, he was able to stress that he never intended to misuse public funds.

But people who are not too forgetful might remember that at the outset of the case, Ma said in an interview that he was of the opinion that the special mayoral allowance was public money.

Of course the court cannot use statements made outside of the courtroom, but Ma has contradicted himself in and out of court.

Both Ma and Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), the Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) presidential candidate, have been embroiled in legal proceedings or are under investigation. This does not necessarily mean that there is something lacking in their ethics or ability to govern. It might be that Taiwanese politicians just love to recklessly sue people, and presidential candidates present the most prominent targets for lawsuits.

If presidential candidates are placed under investigation, the fact that they are candidates means their ethical standards should be higher. Not breaking the law is the least that should be expected of them.

The judicial branch's monitoring of politicians can help ensure their honesty. The fact that a candidate is nervous before a verdict is handed down in his case shows that Taiwan's legal system is independent. In turn, this means that the nation has entered a new era and left the old days behind when the KMT leadership could say: "We own the courts."

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