Thu, Mar 21, 2002 - Page 1 News List

Prosecutors try to muzzle `Next' over state-secrets leak

SECURITY ISSUE The magazine has rejected allegations it published national-security secrets and reprinted copies of the confiscated edition

By Tsai Ting-I  /  STAFF REPORTER

Prosecutors from the Taiwan High Court Prosecutors' Office raided the offices and printing plant of Next magazine and the apartment of one of its reporters yesterday morning, seizing thousands of copies of the latest edition of the magazine and accusing Next of leaking state secrets.

The magazine's management protested against the raids, saying they were a violation of press freedom. The controversial edition was later reprinted and delivered to newsstands last night.

Three prosecutors led the raids at 6:30am, confiscating 160,000 copies of Next edition No. 48, which contained stories about the alleged embezzlement of more than NT$192 million by former National Security Bureau (NSB) chief cashier Colonel Liu Kuan-chun (劉冠軍) in 2000.

The magazine's reports also allege that former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) sanctioned the establishment of two secret committees -- code-named Fengtien (奉天) and Dangyang (當陽) -- under the recommendation of then-NSB chief Ying Tsung-wen (殷宗文), to oversee a secret fund of about NT$3.5 billion, which was deposited at the Farmer's Bank of China (農民銀行).

The two committees were set up to handle secret diplomatic efforts and conduct diplomatic research.

According to Next, starting in 1994, Lee used the funds to prop up diplomatic relations with South Africa, pay for study on the "state-to-state" model of cross-strait relations announced in 1999, and established the Taiwan Research Institute (TRI, 台綜院).

"Some of the secret activities [Lee funded] contributed to Taiwan's national security, but they were in violation of the law," Next report said.

Shih Liang-po (施良波), spokesman for the Taiwan High Court Prosecutors' Office, which is in charge of investigating national security offenses, said the office received a report from the NSB accusing Next of violating Article 109 of the Criminal Code.

Article 109 states that disclosing or delivering a document, plan, information or other secret regarding the ROC's national defense is punishable by a term of imprisonment for not less than one year and not more than seven.

Next's executive editor Pei Wei (裴偉) rebuffed the NSB's allegations, noting that the China Times (中國時報) had already published information about the two secret accounts.

"It's ridiculous to seize the magazines and search our offices. This is a scandal under investigation and has nothing to do with national security," Pei told reporters.

"We will keep printing the magazine and try to deliver this edition to all newsstands on time."

"The NSB has been legalized for a long time, and its functions should be monitored by the legislature. But the bureau just used its money as it wanted. For instance, one member of the Mingte committee spent NT$70,000 to have a suit made and Tsai Ing-wen [蔡英文, current chairperson of the Mainland Affairs Council] received NT$120,000 as a New Year's gift in 2000," Pei said.

He declined to give any details about how the magazine got the information about the funds.

Magazine employees say they worked on the three stories for over a week and that most of the time was spent interviewing NSB officials.

"The pubic has the right to know and the prosecutors' searches violate the freedom of press," Pei said.

PFP .egislator Diane Lee (李慶安) supported Pei's protests in the Legislative Yuan yesterday.

"There should be a clear definition of national security before prosecutors search a magazine's premises," Lee said.

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