Sat, Jan 13, 2001 - Page 1 News List

Lack of evidence weakens case

LIBEL SUITThe saga of accusations between the vice president and the political magazine has finally moved to the courts with neither side giving ground

By Irene Lin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Editor-in-chief of `The Journalist' Yang Chao made no comment as he left the courtroom yesterday on the first day of Vice President Annette Lu's lawsuit against the magazine for libel.

PHOTO: CHIANG YING-YING, TAIPEI TIMES

The libel trial pitting Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) against The Journalist (新新聞) magazine opened yesterday with both sides arguing vigorously over whether the vice president had spread rumors against President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

Amid much media fanfare, the Taipei District Court opened the high-profile case in the morning. Lu is suing the political weekly for running a report accusing her of spreading rumors that President Chen was having an affair with his interpreter.

Lu denies spreading the rumor and demands in the suit that The Journalist make a formal public apology.

The vice president did not attend the hearing in person but had six lawyers representing her. Of eight defendants from The Journalist, only four -- President Wang Chien Chuang (王健壯), Executive President Wang Hsing-ching (王杏慶), Editor in Chief Yang Chao (楊照) and reporter Wu Yien-ling (吳燕玲) -- attended yesterday.

During the hearing that lasted more than four hours, debate centered on whether Yang Chao, who claimed to be the source of the disputed report, had received a voice message and a telephone call from the vice president on Nov. 3.

Yang said he received the call between 11pm and 11:05 pm. He said the vice president had earlier left him a voice message, saying, "I am Vice President Lu. I have something to tell you."

Yang said Lu told him during the subsequent three-minute call, "Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) recently had a problem. There are sex scandals in the Presidential Office ... [first lady] Wu Shu-chen (吳淑珍) told me about the affairs and asked me to watch the president for her."

Yang's claims, however, have been weakened by the fact that his phone records for Nov. 3 contain four outgoing calls and one incoming call, none of which was held with the vice president.

During the hearing, the magazine's lawyers said the vice president may have tampered with Yang's phone records, deleting records of the two crucial calls.

"We cannot rule out the possibility that the records have been tampered with. The possible scenarios are either that the calls weren't made, or the records have been deleted, or technical problems have made this strange thing happen," said Lo Ming-tung (羅明通), one of the two lawyers for The Journalist.

The vice president's lawyers claimed the vice president would not and could not have modified Yang's phone records.

Lu's lawyers argued that telecommunications operators jealously guard customer phone records, which form the basis of phone bills. It was impossible that Yang's mobile phone operator, Taiwan Cellular (台灣大哥大), would have risked its credibility by allowing such tampering, Lu's lawyers insisted.

They also said that Taiwan Cellular officials had stated clearly that the company's software and hardware technicians work separately so that neither of them would possibly be able to change the records.

Lu's lawyers contended that The Journalist had fabricated the report to defame the vice president.

Also under robust debate was the question of which side should bear the burden of proof.

The Journalist argued the burden lay with the suing party. But the vice president's lawyers countered that the magazine had to prove its own assertions that Yang's phone records had been tampered with.

Presiding judge Lai Yang-hua (賴泱樺) said he was as yet unable to rule on the burden of proof matter and that he would therefore allow both sides the right to argue their case on the matter in subsequent hearings.

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