The content of former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) indictment was not surprising because it had been leaked by pan-blue media outlets. The Code of Criminal Procedure (刑事訴訟法), which forbids disclosure of material from active investigations, has been left flapping in the wind.
The indictment lists three main accusations against Chen. The first is his allegedly corrupt practices involving the state affairs fund, the second is money laundering and the third is accepting bribes.
The first accusation was effectively referred to as an “historical glitch” not long ago when President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was pronounced not guilty in his trial on similar charges of misusing his Special Allowance Fund as Taipei mayor. It should therefore be difficult to convict Chen for allegedly acting in a similar fashion.
As to the second accusation, only illegally obtained money can be laundered, and it is not a crime to transfer legally obtained funds from one account to another.
The third accusation is worth further discussion.
There are several contentious issues here. First, it is common knowledge that Jeffrey Koo Jr (辜仲諒), a key witness to the Chen family’s alleged bribetaking, is a wanted felon. At a crucial time in the investigation, Koo suddenly returned to Taiwan on a chartered flight from Japan to testify against Chen. It is as clear as day that the Ma administration made a secret deal with this wanted criminal.
Koo has been on the run for years, and after he returned to Taiwan he was not detained, nor was he charged, and he was allowed to return to Japan scot-free. We have to ask ourselves what sort of a judicial system Taiwan has for this to be allowed to happen. The government appears willing to stop at nothing to convict Chen.
Second, the person at the center of the Longtan land case, another Koo family member, Leslie Koo (辜成允), has stated that the funds the Chen family said were “political contributions” were in fact a “commission,” or what the prosecutors deem to be bribes.
According to evidence in the indictment, Leslie Koo’s company was experiencing financial difficulties and “owed massive debts and it was therefore impossible for him to make political contributions to Chen.”
However, on the same page, Koo gives evidence that he gave political contributions to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). Despite his financial problems, he had money to give to the KMT, yet it was “impossible” that he could have made contributions to Chen. This doesn’t make sense.
Besides, given that prosecutors believe that Leslie Koo bribed Chen, why didn’t they charge him with bribery? Prosecuting only one of the parties here amounts to saying that the one giving money is making a political contribution, while the person receiving it is guilty of taking bribes. What sort of logic is that?
Third, many people have expressed disquiet at the Special Investigation Panel’s (SIP) use of language implying that Chen has already been found guilty. These intentions are made clearer in the text of the indictment: It contains a lot of terminology that is unrelated to the facts of the case, such as “insatiable greed,” “extremely improper personal conduct,” “unbridled interference in political affairs,” “habitual greed,” “abuse of power” and “bringing shame to his office.” What sort of legal discourse is this?
The lack of professionalism on display here is shocking. How can this case be considered fair and impartial if the vengeful and provocative rhetoric of well-known pan-blue media personalities can be transposed into an indictment and their attitudes inform the investigation?
Fourth, on Chen’s alleged corruption, the amounts of money that he supposedly secured by corrupt means were left blank in the indictment. For example, it says things like “The commission should be NT$X hundred million” and “Bribes worth NT$X hundred million flowed as follows.”
In a credible judicial system, an indictment would be invalid without basic details of the amounts of money that are alleged to have been mishandled.
After much criticism, a new version was released with the amounts filled in, which showed that the SIP and the prosecutor general did not read the indictment carefully before it was released. They had, after all, been in a rush to get it out to fulfill their promise to close the case by the end of the year.
These examples illustrate the carelessness, the lack of professionalism and the haste of the SIP on a case of considerable scope and that has drawn a lot of international attention.
In addition, the missing amounts of money imply that the indictment was written before the investigation was completed and that Chen’s “guilt” was pre-determined. All the prosecutors were waiting for were the data to slot in the gaps.
Finally, the indictment did not recommend a punishment. Instead, it broke from common practice and proposed that Chen be “given the most severe of sanctions.” This was done to give the prosecutors maximum leeway so that the Ma administration can deal with the case “flexibly” as the political situation evolves. Hence, Chen, if found guilty, could be handed a sentence of anything between five years in jail and life imprisonment.
As for the current president, Ma holds a degree in law from Harvard University and is a former minister of justice, but even before any charges were placed against Chen, Ma portrayed him as a Taiwanese “Ferdinand Marcos.”
This not only shows that Chen had been effectively labeled as guilty without a trial, but also that the prosecutors were given certain orders.
One can only gasp at the stupidity of Taiwan’s judiciary. The indictment clearly shows that Ma and the KMT have influenced the case and once again reveals the highly politicized nature of the Chen investigation.
Cao Changqing is a writer based in the US.
TRANSLATED BY DREW CAMERON
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