The not-guilty verdict handed down on Friday for six former managers of Ting Hsin International Group (頂新國際集團) — including former executive Wei Ying-chun (魏應充) — over the 2013 cooking oil scandal has triggered harsh criticism from both the public and politicians.
However, what should really be protested is their unequal treatment in court, which needs to be the focus of judicial reform.
In 2013, the public was shocked by allegations that Ting Hsin was importing animal fat from Vietnam to manufacture cooking oil, and demanded that the group’s leaders be penalized.
Originally, the prosecutor called for a 30-year prison term for Wei.
However, the judge on Friday ruled that the prosecution failed to provide sufficient evidence to support the charges, and found the defendants not guilty.
The verdict drew criticism from politicians, such as the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus, which condemned the ruling for failing to meet public expectations, while the Ministry of Health and Welfare said that it was disappointed by the verdict.
However, a court verdict is not meant to “meet public expectations” and should be made based on the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.”
From a judicial point of view, if a judge makes a ruling because the prosecution failed to provide evidence to support the charges, then this follows the legal process.
Instead of criticizing the verdict, what should really be discussed is why the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” seems to apply only to people with influence.
Although martial law was lifted 28 years ago and politics has been mostly democratically transformed, the judiciary seems to be stuck in the Martial Law period.
There have been countless cases in which people were found guilty by the court even though there was insufficient evidence to support the charges.
Hsieh Chih-hung (謝志宏) was accused of being an accomplice in a rape and manslaughter case in 2000 and was sentenced to death.
However, the only “evidence” that supported the charges were the testimony of his friend Kuo Chun-wei (郭俊偉), who was also a defendant in the case, and a confession made by Hsieh without the presence of an attorney and which, he later said, was made under duress.
Hsieh’s clothes showed no evidence of blood. A knife said to have been used in the murder was not checked for fingerprints. Hsieh’s scooter, which was said to have been at the crime scene, showed no evidence of blood either.
Hsieh’s is not an isolated case.
These potentially wrongly judged cases could have been avoided if the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” was applied to every case.
There might be questions about the ruling in the Ting Hsin case, but the way to “correct” the verdict should be to provide sufficient evidence to prove culpability, instead of calling on the court to make a ruling that “meets public expectations.”
While the ministry said that it was disappointed by the ruling, maybe it should follow Democratic Progressive Party Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) advice and provide relevant evidence to the prosecutors’ office if it seeks to appeal the case.
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