Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chief Ma Ying-jeou (
Prosecutors indicted Ma for allegedly siphoning funds from his "special allowance" fund when he was mayor of Taipei.
"Ma Ying-jeou is suspected of embezzling a total of NT$11 million [US$333,000], and he has been indicted on corruption charges," Taiwan High Court Prosecutors' Office spokesman Chang Wen-cheng (張文政) told a press conference yesterday afternoon.
Chang said that from December 1998 to last July, Ma had wired half of his monthly special allowance -- NT$170,000 -- directly into a personal account, and prosecutors found that Ma still had NT$11,176,227 in his and his wife's bank accounts.
Chang said Ma told prosecutors during the investigation that he acknowledged that the mayoral allowance was supposed to be spent on public affairs. Therefore, prosecutors decided Ma knew that keeping the funds in a private account was illegal, and he had therefore intentionally taken the money.
Chang said that Ma's monthly salary was about NT$150,000, but he deposited NT$200,000 into his wife Chou Mei-chin's (
Chang said Ma had included the money in his annual declaration of assets, as required by the law.
Although Ma told prosecutors he had spent around NT$5 million on donations to non-government organizations, charity groups and academic research organizations, prosecutors found that in fact the money originated from election subsidies and surplus funds from his two Taipei mayoral campaigns, Chang said.
One of Ma's aides, Yu Wen (
Prosecutors with the Black Gold Investigation Center -- part of the Taiwan High Court Prosecutors' Office -- also held a press conference yesterday to discuss the probe.
Prosecutor Eric Chen (
Eric Chen said Ma had failed to explain what legal basis he had for keeping public funds in a personal account.
The Ministry of Justice has previously said that special allowances should be seen as a "substantial subsidy" (實質補貼) for officials, and therefore do not require clear accounting.
But Eric Chen said prosecutors rejected this logic, as well as the Ministry of Justice's view that a "lenient approach" should be taken in investigations into special allowance funds.
Hou said he had been uncomfortable dealing with the case.
"However, a person in my position is expected to persevere regardless of the obstacles," Hou said.
In an evening press conference, Ma was unfazed by the indictment, officially announcing his presidential bid after resigning as party chairman only two hours after his indictment was announced.
"My innocence has been questioned, and my integrity -- to the surprise of many -- has been impugned. For me, this is more painful than losing my life," Ma said at KMT headquarters.
"At this moment, when democracy has been mortally wounded, when social justice does not prevail, I hereby solemnly declare that I will turn anger into strength without hesitation, and enter the 2008 presidential race," he said, vowing to prove his innocence.
Amid cheers of "Go, go, Ma Ying-jeou!" and "Win the election, Ma Ying-jeou!" from supporters, Ma said he respected the judicial system, but refused to accept the charges.
Ma promised to transform a society in which "justice and fairness have been hijacked by politics."
"I will not be defeated. I repeat, I will not be defeated," he said.
In a special meeting last night, the KMT's Central Standing Committee -- its highest decision-making body -- decided not to accept Ma's resignation and repealed its black gold exclusion clause to prevent Ma from being disqualified from running as the party's presidential candidate.
The black gold exclusion clause was formulated by the Central Standing Committee and revised under Ma's chairmanship to state that any party member who is indicted should be suspended.
"The clause contravenes other party regulations and the committee has agreed to revoke it," acting chairman Wu Po-hsiung (
Wu denied that the clause had been revoked specifically to favor Ma, but admitted that Ma's situation had created a sense of crisis.
KMT Secretary-General Wu Den-yih (
"Political parties formulate their regulations with election performance in mind. It's our obligation to present a candidate who has the best chance of winning. No party would hamstring itself for the sake of its regulations," he said.
The fact that the clause had been revoked did not necessarily mean that Ma would be the party's presidential candidate, Wu Den-yih said. Ma would still have to compete with the party's other hopefuls in the presidential primary, he said.
Wu Den-yih later visited Ma at his home and relayed the committee's decision to him.
Leaping to Ma's defense earlier yesterday, KMT member Ma Yi-kung (
This included two foundations the former mayor established with NT$47 million left over from his mayoral election subsidies and more than NT$16 million from his personal accounts that was donated to 11 groups.
Ma Ying-jeou also donated NT$11.5 million in November to charities, Ma Yi-kung said.
Upset by the indictment, several KMT members gathered in front of the party's headquarters to protest, condemning the DPP government for "persecuting" Ma Ying-jeou through the judicial system
The demonstrators insisted that Ma Ying-jeou should not resign.
"Chairman Ma and the KMT should get tough about the matter. Why should the KMT obey the law when others don't?" said one middle-aged woman, as she sat outside the headquarters holding a sign and sobbing.
Another KMT member who identified herself only by her surname, Hsiao (
"Chen Shui-bian (
Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (
Wang was scheduled to meet with the press at 4pm, but he didn't show up in the legislature until 6:30pm, after Ma had concluded his press conference.
Wang refused to comment on whether he had waited to see what Ma would say before meeting with the press.
"I believe in Ma's integrity and morality, but I also believe in the judiciary," Wang said, responding to the indictment.
Asked about Ma's declaration that he would seek the presidency next year, Wang simply said "I give my greatest respects for his decision."
The legislative speaker turned around and walked out of room when the press asked him when he plans to declare his candidacy.
The investigation into Ma's alleged misuse of his allowance began when DPP Legislator Hsieh Hsin-ni (
Ma, who was still serving as Taipei mayor then, argued that he had used the fund in accordance with the law, which grants more than 6,500 local government chiefs a discretionary budget, half of which can be reimbursed for public expenditures without providing supporting receipts.
Meanwhile, prosecutor spokesman Chang yesterday said prosecutors are also investigating Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮), Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌), DPP Chairman Yu Shyi-kun, former premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), and Judicial Yuan President Weng Yueh-sheng's (翁岳生) handling of their discretionary funds.
The investigations would be completed in the near future, added Chang.
Additional reporting by Shih Hsiu-chuan
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