“The Chinese Nationalist Party [KMT] owns the courts,” former Examination Yuan president Hsu Shui-teh (許水德) once said.
Though some may still have their doubts about the validity of this statement, many more were probably convinced of its veracity after the Taipei District Court on Tuesday acquitted former Executive Yuan secretary-general Lin Yi-shih (林益世) of bribery charges.
The court ruled that Lin’s lobbying of China Steel Corp officials did not constitute a breach of duty, and that he had therefore not violated the Anti-Corruption Act (貪汙治罪條例) by accepting NT$63 million (US$2.13 million) from Ti Yung Co owner Chen Chi-hsiang (陳啟祥) to help him secure a contract to buy slag from subsidiaries of state-owned China Steel. Instead, the court found Lin guilty of seeking to profit through intimidation through his capacity as a public official, and guilty of owning assets from dubious sources.
The court stripped Lin of his civil rights for five years and fined him NT$15.8 million.
Court rulings should be respected for their professionalism and fairness. However, Tuesday’s ruling fell far short of public expectations, because few people agree with the Taipei District Court that a government official accepting a bribe does not constitute corruption.
Then there are questions about the NT$63 million that Chen admitted giving to Lin. The court previously confiscated NT$33 million from Lin and now it has fined him NT$15.8 million. That would appear to leave Lin holding NT$14.2 million, and yet the court has still ruled he is not guilty of corruption.
Equally bizarre is that the court showed leniency toward Chen for admitting to investigators that he gave Lin a bribe of NT$63 million, and yet it found Lin not guilty of accepting the bribe.
No wonder the ruling left many people scratching their heads.
However, many have also been puzzled by the lack of comment on the ruling from the nation’s leaders.
Rewind to Nov. 5, 2010, when the same court, citing insufficient evidence, acquitted former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and his wife, Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍), of charges of money laundering and taking bribes from bankers in exchange for help manipulating bank mergers. Just two days later, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said the “judiciary, while it needs to be independent, cannot be isolated from the public, let alone be opposed to the public’s reasonable expectations.”
Less than a week later, Chen Shui-bian was found guilty of bribery in a final verdict in the Longtan land acquisition case.
Ma was quick to speak out when a verdict on Chen Shui-bian did not meet “the public’s reasonable expectations,” but he has not lectured the court for not heeding public opinion on Lin’s case.
If the same “standard” and reasoning used by the Taipei District Court in Lin’s case are to be upheld, then the corruption convictions against Chen Shui-bian and his wife should be overturned because they too were merely “seeking profit through intimidation.”
The Supreme Prosecutors’ Office Special Investigation Division has yet to decide whether it will appeal the verdict in Lin’s case.
If it does and the Taiwan High Court upholds the district court’s ruling, then the nation’s judiciary will have lost any hope of ending the public’s ongoing disappointment and frustration with it.
The public will also know exactly who to blame.