The Special Investigation Division (SID) has accused Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) of calling former minister of justice Tseng Yung-fu (曾勇夫) and “lobbying” him. The news sent shockwaves through the country and the nation’s political world reeled.
Immediately, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) announced his shock and horror at the allegations and the next day he issued a public statement ordering Wang to return immediately from his trip abroad to explain himself.
Shortly after, the Presidential Office called a press conference in which Ma spoke — with rarely heard gravity — about how Taiwan was on a dangerous course, and how that day was “the most shameful day in the development of democracy and the rule of law in Taiwan.”
He roundly criticized his Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) colleague Wang, saying: “Each one of us needs to ask ourselves, if this is not lobbying, then what is? If powerful people can lobby and influence the judiciary, how can ordinary people be assured of judicial justice?”
People are incensed when powerful figures try to influence the judiciary. However, the case against Wang is based on inferences made from conversations obtained through surveillance and hasty conclusions. The case will be viewed differently in the political realm than in a legal setting.
If Ma believes Wang’s telephone conversations constitute improper lobbying, perhaps he is being hypocritical.
On Nov. 5, 2010, Taipei District Court Judge Chou Chan-chun (周占春) declared former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) not guilty of the charges against him in connection with the second financial reform.
Two days later, Ma — in his capacity as president — openly discussed the case, criticizing the not-guilty verdict in the strongest of terms. He said: “The judiciary should be independent, but it cannot be isolated, neither can it shy away from the reasonable expectations that the public has of it.”
On Nov. 9, he held a banquet at the Presidential Office, to which he invited the premier, the vice premier, the legislative speaker, the deputy speaker, the president and vice president of the Judicial Yuan, the secretaries-general of those institutions, the minister of justice and the prosecutor-general. During the dinner he said: “Respecting the law does not equate to ignoring the disappointment and anger the general public feels about the judges that deliver verdicts that fail to meet the reasonable expectations the people have of them. I have heard what people have had to say, and I have taken note.”
On that occasion Ma announced that the SID had already decided to appeal the verdict on the second financial reform case.
Then on Nov. 11, the Supreme Court convicted Chen — in a move unprecedented for such a complex and highly contentious case — sending the former president, who had already been detained for a long time, to jail.
Perhaps this is what Ma meant when he talked of meeting the public’s reasonable expectations. Shockingly, the court did not announce its verdict in full until a month later.
Is this sequence of events an example of “powerful people” lobbying and influencing the judiciary? Does Ma think that inviting senior members of the judiciary to a dinner and commenting on individual cases could be considered “political guidance”? Were these actions flagrant lobbying of the Supreme Court in order to see his political enemy put behind bars?
Chen Chih-chung is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and has a master’s in law from New York University.
Translated by Paul Cooper