After weeks of insisting she could prove the US State Department wrong, former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislator Diane Lee (李慶安) declined to show her cards on Saturday. Her reason? She no longer holds a public post.
Lee’s lawyer announced on Saturday, as her supporters and critics alike waited with baited breath, that Lee would not go public with a document she said the State Department was still reviewing and that she claimed would prove she not a US citizen.
The argument would seem to be that as she was no longer a legislator, the public no longer had a right to know whether Lee had been breaking the law — and illegally collecting a government salary — for the past 14 years.
Saturday marked a year since the start of Lee’s most recent legislative term, and in line with a clause in the Nationality Act (國籍法) stipulating that a legislator should prove a second nationality has been renounced within a year of taking office, Lee had vowed to produce documentation to support her claims.
Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) and others had stood by that deadline, allowing Lee more than a month after a letter from the State Department identifying her as a US citizen was made public by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Chai Trong-rong (蔡同榮).
That grace period was a gesture many felt constituted preferential treatment by the KMT of a legislator already in her fourth term.
But not everyone has been satisfied by Lee’s attempt to withdraw from public scrutiny, including some KMT lawmakers who are aware of the potential impact of the scandal — and the caucus’ response to it — on the party’s reputation. Days after the State Department’s response was disclosed, KMT legislators voted down a DPP proposal that the Legislative Yuan examine Lee’s eligibility to retain her position.
More than a month later, after her resignation as a legislator, withdrawal from the party and continued failure to disprove the US State Department’s findings, the KMT can no longer afford to be seen as shielding Lee from public censure and potential legal penalties.
On Monday, KMT caucus secretary-general Chang Sho-wen (張碩文) said that although the legislature no longer had the power to unseat Lee or require that she present evidence of her claims, Lee should produce her proof as soon as possible.
As Lee quit her party just one day before she was to speak to its Evaluation and Discipline Committee, the KMT can no longer penalize her through that channel. Nevertheless, it needs to take a clear, if overdue, stance that Lee’s case must be followed through. If it fails to do so, allegations that Lee is enjoying the party’s protection will persist. This, at a time when concern is rife both at home and abroad that justice in Taiwan is rapidly becoming partisan.
Lee’s citizenship status was not just a matter of eligibility to stay in office. She has possibly been in violation of the law for more than a decade and, in accordance with the Nationality Act, would therefore be obliged to repay the salary she earned during those years. That sum, while unconfirmed, has been estimated at NT$120 million (US$3.3 million).
Whether or not Lee is a legislator now is irrelevant.