Fri, Feb 10, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Jacqueline Liu should pay own legal costs

By Wu Ching-chin 吳景欽

Jacqueline Liu (劉姍姍), the former director-general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Kansas City, recently pleaded guilty in the US to mistreating her housekeeper. After signing a plea agreement she was ordered to pay about US$80,000 in compensation and was then deported. However, should this allow her to draw a line under the whole sorry affair?

The US court held that the circumstances of this case fell outside the scope of duties carried out by a Republic of China (ROC) national in her capacity as a public servant, so it was not bound under the bilateral Agreement on Privileges, Exemptions and Immunities. Liu therefore did not enjoy diplomatic immunity and was consequently liable to prosecution.

There is a special feature of criminal courts in the US, which is that if both parties in a case come to an agreement, the defendant does not necessarily have to be subjected to a trial by jury, since they have already pleaded guilty.

This is on condition that the presiding judge, who is to pass sentence according to the terms of the agreement, is satisfied with the arrangement. As Liu had undertaken to pay compensation to her housekeeper and pleaded guilty, the case was considered closed in the US.

That was a view not mirrored by the authorities in Taiwan on her return. For them, the case was far from closed. As the decision was made on foreign soil in a foreign court, based on the independence of a sovereign power, it carried no legal weight in Taiwan. It was an established fact — and that is all.

According to Article 9 of the ROC’s Criminal Code, the Liu case was still awaiting resolution, regardless of the fact that a court decision had already been made in the US. The courts here, based on the principle of double jeopardy, still have the option of exempting her from prosecution for this crime through a qualifying clause found in Article 9.

As the aspect of the case involving the mistreatment of the housekeeper has been thus resolved, this part of any investigation would be of symbolic value only.

However, the verdict of the US court was in regard to the mistreatment of the housemaid alone. Other aspects of the case, such as whether Liu docked the housekeeper’s salary or paid for it with taxpayers’ money, lies beyond the jurisdiction of the US courts. If any country fell foul of Liu’s alleged corruption, it was Taiwan, not the US.

Although her actions took place on US soil, Article 6, Clause 1 of the Criminal Code states that any individual who, in their capacity as a public servant, engages in corruption or malfeasance on foreign soil is liable to prosecution in Taiwan. Since Liu was charged while stationed overseas as a public servant, prosecutors were obliged to investigate the matter upon her return to Taiwan.

As for whether the amount of compensation paid and the legal fees thus far accrued should come out of the national coffers, it really does not matter if Liu is eventually found guilty or innocent on the corruption charges.

She has already pleaded guilty to mistreating the housemaid, demonstrating that she is guilty of dereliction of duty. Consequently, her high legal fees should not be paid with taxpayers’ money and ought to come out of her own pocket.

Liu is now back in Taiwan, having been deported from the US, where she pleaded guilty as charged.

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