Mon, Aug 03, 2009 - Page 8 News List

Chen’s gone, the system lives on

By Jerome Keating

The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) is seen by many as the proverbial beggar who came and took over Taiwan’s Temple (乞丐趕廟公). It came as a colonial power, destroyed the island’s economy to support its losing war effort in China, and finally retreated back to the island to grab positions of power, property and wealth as its own.

It is in this context that the charade of a corruption trial of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) needs to be seen.

With this trial, the evidence is mounting not over Chen’s guilt, but over judicial double standards. Such double standards have been a characteristic of KMT rule for most of its existence.

Chen’s greatest handicap remains that he is Taiwanese and that he stood up to the KMT; his worst mistake was that he allegedly used a corrupt system installed by the beggar in the temple for his own benefit.

Great amounts of taxpayer money have been moved offshore from Taiwan into overseas bank accounts for decades. After Sept. 11, 2001, however, a US administration eager to track money used by terrorists required that banks declare large international transfers.

Many in the KMT were lucky that this change took place after the party lost power in 2000. Enormous amounts of money had gone under the radar screen. Allegedly similar funds moved by Chen, however, quickly showed up, concentrating the focus on the former president and leaving past abuses untouched.

Unprofessional behavior has marked Chen’s trial from the beginning.

The prosecutors began their work by stating that they would resign if they did not find the evidence to deliver a guilty verdict.

Prosecutors have largely failed to expose the corrupt system that has allowed all levels of government officials to skim and pilfer for decades, but they knew that a system of discretionary administrative funds was built to be abused.

Buoyed with confidence, certain prosecutors and at least one judge later made it a point to publicly mock Chen by impersonating him in handcuffs at a party at the end of last year.

However, the system of discretionary administrative funds has proved to be a two-edged sword.

So loose are the regulations and so frequently have they been abused that after all this time the prosecution has yet to build a substantial case.

Although the formal pursuit and indictment had to be delayed until Chen left office, the investigation in substance began more than three years ago. Yet the case brought against Chen remains a fishing expedition in want of solid evidence.

Prosecutors have therefore resorted to other means.

One was to have Chen detained and not allow him the chance to prepare an adequate defense.

For a considerable period of time, Chen was not allowed private consultations with his lawyers or visitors. Prosecutors could quietly interview and indict witnesses to get the answers they wanted, yet at the same time they and the court made sure that Chen could see no one in private.

Lawyer-client privilege be damned: They demanded, and enjoyed, the right to listen in on any discussions between Chen and his legal team.

Eventually this practice was declared unconstitutional, but that did not give Chen back the time he needed to prepare his defense.

Even now, Chen’s visitors cannot enjoy complete privacy when meeting a man who is technically innocent.

When a previous judge ruled against detaining Chen prior to trial, KMT legislators applied public pressure until a new judge was brought in — and the new judge promptly reversed the decision.

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