The Ministry of Justice has formed a task force to investigate allegations that the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office Special Investigation Division’s (SID) was guilty of illegal wiretapping, and has assured the public that the investigation will be quick. The ministry also said it was possible President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) would be summoned for questioning [Editor’s note: which he was on Thursday evening]. These are strong and ambitious words and Thursday’s action is a good start.
However, since newly appointed Minister of Justice Lo Ying-shay (羅瑩雪) has already set the tone for the case by claiming it was all the result of an oversight, are we really supposed to believe that the ministry’s investigation will be meaningful?
Those involved in the case, including Ma and Prosecutor-General Huang Shih-ming (黃世銘), have been implicated in serious crimes such as illegal wiretapping and the leaking of confidential information. Although Huang must answer to the ministry, the ministry has no investigative rights over criminal cases; it can only investigate administrative violations.
Therefore, even if the task force summoned the
prosecutor-general or the president, all it could really do is cross its fingers. These is little chance that questioning will result in any accountability.
Also, as the task force does not have the power to issue compulsory orders, it can only receive such information as the SID sees fit to provide. Since five of the 11 members of the task force come from within the prosecutors’ system, so it is likely that nothing will come of it in the end.
Worse still, when asked by reporters about whether Ma could meet with and make telephone calls to Huang, Lo said that Taiwan is a free country and people can do anything they want if it is not illegal. Such remarks are truly shocking. According to the principle of reservation of law (gesetzesvorbehalt), civil servants are subject to stringent regulations when carrying out their duties, and everything they do must be done in accordance with the law. You cannot just say that if no laws apply, officials — even presidents — can just do as they please.
There are legitimate concerns about Lo’s understanding of the law. Indeed, since she has already said the transgressions were merely oversights, it is almost futile to hope that a task force will be able to find the truth.
Huang was wrong to violate the confidentiality of an ongoing investigation by reporting to Ma. And Ma showed no respect for due process when he accepted the evidence from Huang, or when he made subsequent telephone calls about the issue. These actions need to be investigated by the proper bodies. The problem with this is that the SID is the body responsible for investigating corruption by the president, and it is party to the case.
Further, given the constitutional powers invested in the president, the SID concluded the case some time ago. It is also highly doubtful that Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office would dare carry out a serious investigation on Huang or apply for a search warrant to raid the SID or the Presidential Office Building. While prosecutors delay, there is a real risk that the evidence will be destroyed or tampered with.
I am not optimistic that the truth will ever be found out. It is truly unfortunate that Taiwan lacks the proper checks and balances on abuses of power by people in high positions.
Wu Ching-chin is an assistant professor in Aletheia University’s financial and economic law department.
Translated by Drew Cameron