On Friday last week, a Supreme Court panel reviewed the case of a college professor who was convicted for depositing a National Science Council research subsidy into his private bank account — one of the many cases in which academics have been accused of defrauding the council and academic institutions by obtaining reimbursements under false pretenses. The court ruled that academics cannot be charged with corruption because they are not civil servants.
When professors falsely or fraudulently claim reimbursements from academic institutions, is it just a stopgap solution that they have thought up? Do they do it because they have no other choice? Is it a leftover from a system that made it impossible for them to carry out their research otherwise?
I do not propose discussing these questions. What interests me is the court’s decision that those who are not vested with authority as civil servants cannot face corruption charges.
All people are equal before the law, are they not? When former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and his wife, Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍), stand before the law, it is not a matter of supporting them or disliking them, is it?
Chen was president for eight years, but Wu, as first lady, never possessed the authority of a civil servant. That being the case, the charge of corruption should not be applicable to her, should it?
Then why did prosecutor Eric Chen (陳瑞仁) charge Wu with corruption on Nov. 3, 2006? Who can explain why, on Dec. 20 last year, the Supreme Court convicted Wu of complicity in corruption in the case concerning the second phase of financial reform? Surely it cannot be claimed that Chen was subservient to Wu and did whatever she said, because no one knows what went on between the couple in private.
Who can claim that if Chen indulged in corruption, Wu must have done the same? After all, a husband and wife stand before the law as two independent individuals. If that were not the case, how could President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), a former minister of justice, say that punishment is not to be inflicted on the wife and children of a convict?
Accordingly, in relation to any corruption case that took place during Chen’s tenure as president, the charge of fraudulently obtaining property under cover of legal authority, as described in the Anti-Corruption Act (貪污治罪條例), clearly cannot be applied to Wu. If the authorities wanted to bring Wu to trial, they should have charged her with something other than corruption.
The reason Taiwanese have so little faith in the judicial system is because those responsible for enforcing the law often interpret it in contradictory ways. The result is that the judiciary is often manipulated, or concedes to being manipulated. Sometimes it does U-turns, and sometimes it shoots at random.
In such circumstances, how could anybody believe in the myth that everybody stands equal before the law?
Chang Kuo-tsai retired as an associate professor at National Hsinchu University of Education and is a former deputy secretary-general of the Taiwan Association of University Professors.
Translated by Julian Clegg