Sat, Apr 28, 2012 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Another one slips through the cracks

Another white-collar criminal (in this case sometimes white-collar) has disappeared after the verdict was handed down in his final trial and he had to report to the authorities to start serving a prison term.

Much as Thai newspapers have been filled for decades with stories about drivers involved in traffic accidents escaping by swimming a nearby canal, Taiwan’s judicial history over the past two decades is littered with prominent businesspeople or politicians who are nowhere to be found when it comes time to do their time. Many of them eventually resurface in China, the US or elsewhere, such as former Tuntex Group president Chen Yu-hao (陳由豪), former Kuangsan Enterprise Group president Tseng Cheng-jen (曾正仁), former Kaohsiung City Council speaker Chu An-hsiung (朱安雄), former Kaohsiung mayor and tycoon Wang Yu-yun (王玉雲), former Chung Hsing Bank vice chairman Wang Chih-hsiung (王志雄) and former legislator Ho Chih-hui (何智輝) — the list grows longer every year.

Now, former independent legislator Lo Fu-chu (羅福助) has presumably joined their ranks — “presumably” because no authority in Taiwan appears to know his whereabouts, except that he has not been seen in weeks. It is hard to believe that someone who relished publicity for so long — as demonstrated when he slapped and punched fellow lawmaker Diane Lee (李慶安) during a committee hearing after she reportedly accused him of being a gangster — is now willing to lay low.

Lo was placed on the wanted list on Wednesday after failing to report to prosecutors on Tuesday to begin serving a four-year term. The Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office said it received a petition from Lo on Tuesday asking for a reprieve so that he could file an extraordinary appeal, but prosecutors rejected it and issued 22 warrants for his arrest. His NT$10 million (US$339,000) bond was also confiscated and the prosecutors’ office said the statute of limitations on his case would not expire until December 2030.

The Ministry of Justice was quick to deflect any blame for the non-appearance of yet another high-profile convict by blaming the law. The ministry said the Code of Criminal Procedure (刑事訴訟法) prevents law enforcement from monitoring convicts’ telephone lines in the run-up to their reporting date, and prosecutors can only issue warrants if the convict fails to report for prison. The ministry said it would propose an amendment to allow prosecutors to issue warrants for major criminals as soon as the courts hand down final verdicts in their cases. It also wants prosecutors to be able to monitor convicts through electronic tags and other means as they await their final verdict.

Minister of the Interior Lee Hong-yuan (李鴻源) also blamed the laxity in the law regarding the period between when a final sentence is given and when the convicted must report to start their sentence. Lee said his officials would discuss the matter with their justice ministry counterparts, but added that in addition to the practical difficulties of monitoring all would-be inmates, the human rights of an inmate-to-be must also be respected.

Respect is all well and good, but it is the judicial system that needs to claw back some of that respect — and it needs the legislature’s help. If the law is too weak, it needs to be changed, immediately.

There are several ways to avoid this growing problem of no-shows among wealthy, connected convicts or even run-of-the-mill criminals: Cut down on paperwork by requiring immediate remand into custody upon conviction, instead of issuing summonses or warrants; institute greater use of electronic monitoring anklets or bracelets for those out on bond and awaiting a final verdict; and, in cases where there is a possible jail term of several years, travel bans and surrendering of passports should be an automatic requirement in the final trial phase.

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