The Keystone Cops, the policemen immortalized in the Mack Sennett silent film comedies made between 1912 and 1917, became famous because despite all their vigorous chases, they were completely incompetent when it came to catching lawbreakers, often because of lack of coordination or sheer misguidedness.
One hundred years on, another group of law enforcement officials is becoming equally infamous for its vigorous efforts to investigate alleged wrongdoing through equally hamfisted and bungling actions.
The Special Investigation Division (SID) of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office was established in 2007 to probe allegations of corruption or other malfeasance by the president, vice president, presidents of the five yuans, Cabinet ministers or commission heads and military officers of the rank of general or above; corruption in presidential or legislative elections; and a catch-all category of “corruption, economic crimes or social order offenses as designated by the prosecutor-general.”
While the division has been criticized for several years, mainly for its supposed preference for investigating members of the former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration, it has been in the headlines for almost two months now because of its wiretapping of DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) and then, as it turned out, a main number for the Legislative Yuan’s switchboard, 0972-630-235.
On Wednesday, the Chinese-language Next Magazine reported that the lines of 13 other former and current lawmakers had been tapped as well.
When it was first revealed that the 0972-630-235 number had been tapped as part of the Ker-Wang probe, the division said it had mistakenly assumed that the number belonged to a legislative assistant and that nothing was recorded on the 21 compact discs it obtained from the Ministry of Justice’s Investigation Bureau from the wiretap. As hard as that was to believe, a ministry panel on Oct. 11 reported that the incident had stemmed from administrative errors rather than a deliberate attempt to bug the legislature and that the wiretap had been legal.
After the latest issue of Next Magazine was published, the ministry confirmed that 15 lawmakers had also been tapped via the 0972-630-235 line because of allegations of corruption or vote-buying, but that the taps had been unable to record any conversations.
Minister of Justice Lo Ying-shay (羅瑩雪) said that it was another example of prosecutors mistaking the number for personal phone numbers.
While the efforts of top officials to deflect criticism of the Ker-Wang case kept harping on “administrative errors” or laying the division’s problems at the feet of the DPP, under whose administration it was established, the wiretapping probes mentioned in the article reportedly spanned six years, which mean some of them date back to the start of the division.
Several of the lawmakers identified in the story said they had never been notified that the wiretapping had ended, as required by law.
That omission may be just a sidebar to the main story, but it also appears to demonstrate a willingness to disregard the law on the part of SID staff.
To add insult to injury, Lo would have the public believe that the wiretapping of the legislature’s main number was not “so serious” because the taps did not record anything. Is the public to believe that the office is filled with prosecutors and staff who are incapable of realizing they are getting nothing from wiretapped numbers for years?
There is nothing remotely funny about such “Keystone Cops-style” investigations, especially when a system of checks and balances was not built into the laws and regulations establishing the SID.
The goal in setting up the division was a worthy one, but its implementation has been a disaster. A complete overhaul is necessary.