On Monday, eight prosecutors in charge of the investigation into former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) secret overseas accounts held a press conference in Taipei.
During the press conference, prosecutor Yueh Fang-ju (越方如) proclaimed that if they failed to solve the case, they would step down.
Yueh asked rhetorically: “If the case cannot be solved, how could we not be too ashamed to stay?”
Supreme Prosecutor Office’s Special Investigation Panel (SIP) spokesman Chen Yun-nan (陳雲南) echoed Yueh’s comments, saying that if the team failed to solve the case, then they would have to step down, too.
The problem with this is that prosecutors are civil officials, not political appointees.
They should handle cases in accordance with the law and make remarks and decisions based on the evidence associated with the case at hand — nothing more and nothing less.
The language used by the SIP prosecutors at the press conference makes it sound as if they were pan-blue politicians commencing a campaign of attack on Chen Shui-bian.
In addition, the SIP ignored Articles 2 and 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (刑事訴訟法).
Article 2 stipulates that “a public official who conducts proceedings on a criminal case shall give equal attention to circumstances favorable or unfavorable to an accused,” while Article 154 stipulates that “prior to final conviction through trial, an accused is presumed to be innocent.”
After President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his administration took office, Minister of Justice Wang Ching-feng (王清峰) made public remarks regarding the details of the case on a political talkshow as if she were a civil servant rather than an elected official.
Now the prosecutors in the ministry’s own probe into the case have made a public statement directly dealing with an ongoing investigation that they are participating in, using politically tainted language to say that they will step down if they cannot find evidence to prove the accused has committed the crimes that he is accused of.
Is that right and proper? Whatever happened to the independence of the judiciary? How can this state of affairs reflect well on the judiciary’s credibility?
The prosecutors on the SIP are coming across like political guns hired by the president in proclaiming that their careers will be staked on their ability to secure Chen Shui-bian’s conviction.
Because of this, it will be very difficult to guarantee that these people are not, in fact, thinking of advancing their careers as public officials and that they are prepared to abuse their powers to get the desired result.
It is also difficult to believe that these prosecutors can be neutral in this case.
If Chen Shui-bian were convicted, it is hard to see how the public would believe that it was on the basis of guilt rather than as a means for these prosecutors to further their personal interests.
With this fateful SIP press conference, the prosecuting panel’s neutrality went up in smoke.
To ensure public confidence in the judiciary, the eight prosecutors involved should resign from their posts immediately and withdraw completely from the investigation into Chen Shui-bian.
If they don’t do this, the Ministry of Justice should take the initiative and have them replaced.
Chen San-er is a lawyer and a former chairman of Amnesty International Taiwan.
TRANSLATED BY TED YANG
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