Thu, Jan 25, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Su moves to block `state affairs' case

ABOVE THE LAW? The Ministry of Justice can order prosecutors to drop the case, the premier said, while some questioned what right the executive branch had to intervene

By Jimmy Chuang and Rich Chang  /  STAFF REPORTERS

The premier yesterday moved to prevent prosecutors from proceeding with the "state affairs fund" case, calling on the Ministry of Justice to challenge the legality of the case.

Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) asked the ministry to file for an interpretation on Article 52 of the Constitution, saying that the ministry had the authority to control how prosecutors handle an investigation.

Article 52 stipulates that the president may not be tried during his term unless he commits a crime that concerns national security or involves treason.

The Democratic Progressive Party has already filed an application for a constitutional interpretation of Article 52, arguing that prosecutors do not have the right to question President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

At a regular Cabinet meeting yesterday morning, the premier said that the justice ministry had approved an administrative order in 1996 which gave it authorization to postpone investigation of a sitting president until the end of his or her term.

Su said prosecutors have argued that the ministry did not have the authority to tell prosecutors how to handle the "state affairs fund" case, but was allowed to "supervise" investigators.

"At the least, we hope to get clarification from the [Council of] Grand Justices, and find the fine line that separates the justice ministry from prosecutors," Su said.

However, Minister of Justice Morley Shih (施茂林) was cautious yesterday about whether his ministry would act in accordance with the premier's wishes.

The ministry would research the issue before deciding whether to file an application itself or with the Executive Yuan, Shih said.

Shih said that because prosecutors had received a number of accusations against former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), the ministry in 1996 produced a document saying that the incumbent president should enjoy immunity from prosecution, and prosecutors should suspend any investigations involving a sitting president.

Meanwhile, prosecutors were scathing in their response to the government's approach, with the Prosecutors Reform Association issuing a statement saying the ministry had no right to file a constitutional interpretation.

Prosecutor Chang Hsi-huai (張熙懷), who is in charge of the "state affairs fund" case, told reporters: "It is strange that while prosecutors in the case are making every effort to bring the defendants to justice, the Executive Yuan is requiring that the prosecutors' supervisor [the Ministry of Justice] file a constitutional interpretation to block the investigation."

Chang said that he and other prosecutors had finished reading the files concerning "diplomatic work" in the fund, and found that there was no information in the files that should fall under the protection of the Classified National Security Information Protection Act (國家機密保護法).

But Su, in his earlier statements during the Cabinet meeting, said the move was necessary to protect government.

The premier repeated his previous claims that Article 52 of the Constitution was necessary to ensure that the president was protected from partisan prosecution, and for the government to keep functioning.

The premier said that he had "no choice," and decided to file the application because the case had affected the country's national security and diplomacy. The case also jeopardized the president's legal rights, he said, which are protected by the Constitution.

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