On July 2, following four years of legal wrangling, two cases in which former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) and others were accused of embezzling special allowance funds ended with not-guilty verdicts, and prosecutors decided not to appeal. On Wednesday, Lu petitioned the Control Yuan to investigate whether the prosecutors who brought the case against her had abused their authority.
The conviction rate for corruption cases in Taiwan has for a long time hovered around 60 percent. Even setting aside the question of whether prosecutors treat cases differently according to political affiliations, the low conviction rate is hard to accept.
Taiwan’s existing laws and regulations for punishing corruption are not very clear, and this makes it hard to prevent the judiciary from handling cases differently depending on the people and circumstances involved. Before leading officials’ special allowance funds were decriminalized, there was no law whatsoever to stipulate how these funds should be used, so they were always reimbursed based on previous practice.
Officials who handled their allowances in this way ran the risk of facing serious corruption charges, while some officials who really did pocket public funds got away with it. The Prosecutor-General ought to ensure that prosecutors interpret all such cases and apply the relevant laws in the same way across the board.
People who are prosecuted in relation to the reimbursement of special allowance funds get saddled with the label of corruption and tied down with litigation that drags on and on. This is especially true when they are found not guilty at the first trial but prosecutors appeal the verdict for no good reason except to save face.
It is a good thing that we now have the Criminal Speedy Trial Act (刑事妥速審判法), Article 9 of which clearly states that, with the exception of three circumstances, if people accused of crimes are found not guilty in the courts of first and second instance, the prosecution may not appeal the case to a third trial. Otherwise, prosecutors would be sure to keep on appealing.
Even when the accused are found not guilty, if they want to bring the prosecutors to account, they face obstacles in pursuing their objectives. Although Article 125 of the Criminal Code makes it a crime for public prosecutors to abuse their authority in arresting or detaining a person, the conditions for bringing such charges against a prosecutor are extremely stringent.
What is more, the power to decide whether such prosecutions can go ahead is also in the hands of prosecutors. Even when an accused person sues prosecutors or lodges an accusation against them, the case inevitably ends up being closed on the grounds that investigations have revealed no criminal acts or that there is not enough evidence. This makes Taiwan’s law against the abuse of authority by prosecutors no more than a scrap of paper.
The fact that about 40 percent of those accused in corruption cases end up being found not guilty suggests that either prosecutors are abusing their authority or they are not doing a good job of presenting evidence. Prosecutors can hardly deny their responsibility. Furthermore, the low conviction rate of around 60 percent is sure to encourage a try-and-see attitude that does not help.
If prosecutors keep defending their actions by claiming that they indicted the officials concerned in accordance with the law, it will not just give people the feeling that they are trying to dodge the blame, but also throw prosecutors’ impartiality even further into doubt than it already is.