Minister of Justice Tseng Yung-fu (曾勇夫) shook legal and political circles on Friday, when he stepped down following accusations of influence peddling. Whether this will calm the situation remains to be seen as the legal and political repercussions develop.
The Special Investigation Division (SID) was made aware of the possible influence peddling after monitoring the telephone calls of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislative caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘). During a telephone call, Ker asked Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) to ask Tseng and Taiwan High Prosecutors’ Office Head Prosecutor Chen Shou-huang (陳守煌) not to appeal Ker’s acquittal in a recent embezzlement trial. According to the SID, Tseng would now be referred to the Control Yuan for an impeachment probe, while Chen would be subject to an administrative evaluation.
Tseng and Chen have denied the charges and Tseng said: “It is a shame that the SID is accusing people with false facts.”
Even Lin Shiow-tao (林秀濤), the prosecutor in charge of Ker’s breach of trust case, says that the SID is deliberately distorting the evidence, implying that the SID is investigating officials because of personal animosity.
The telephone records made public by the SID make it clear that Ker asked Wang for help and mentioned Tseng’s name, but this is not direct evidence that Tseng and Chen are guilty of influence peddling. It is not clear whether the prosecutor in Ker’s case decided not to appeal due to pressure from superiors or because of a professional evaluation of the case.
It is not certain that Tseng was legally obliged to resign, but it will be difficult for him and Chen to escape moral judgement.
This case involves leaders in both the pan-blue and pan-green camps, which is likely to have far-reaching political repercussions. Some have even suggested that this is all a plot thought up by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to hit three birds with one stone. Ma and Wang do not get along, and this is just the beginning of the storm. Ma was quick to make his position clear, and that Tseng’s resignation was so quickly approved makes observers think this is just the first stage, and that the real target — Wang — is next.
Wang’s connections within and influence over the legislature and Taiwan’s political scene is unrivaled, and an attack by Ma on Wang is likely to create a strong backlash, both in the legislature and within the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).
The legislature is about to start its next session, and any changes to the leadership of the legislature or the DPP’s legislative caucus will create discontent within the KMT. The DPP is also likely to do all it can to block any such changes. If the legislature turns against Ma, there is a clear risk that major legal bills, such as the cross-strait service trade agreement, the referendum on the continued construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City (新北市), and reforms to the system of special privileges of military personnel, civil servants and public school teachers could come to naught.
Tseng’s resignation was only the prelude and the main act will begin when Wang returns to Taiwan. Ma will require a sound plan and all his intelligence to control how the case develops, prevent a chain reaction and minimize the after-effects. Unfortunately for Ma, public confidence in his abilities is not high.