Former president Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) trial on corruption charges started yesterday with two key witnesses being summoned over allegations that he had accepted kickbacks in a land deal.
Chen's lawyers began by requesting that Tsai Ming-chieh (蔡銘杰), former first lady Wu Shu-jen's (吳淑珍) friend, and Leslie Koo (辜成允), Taiwan Cement Corp (台泥) chairman, appear as witnesses in the trial involving the sales of a plot of land in Longtan (龍潭), Taoyuan County, to the Hsinchu Science Park Administration.
Tsai was questioned and cross-examined regarding his involvement in the land deal to determine whether Chen and his wife had received kickbacks from the land deal.
After listening to his lawyer, Shih Yi-ling (石宜琳), question Tsai for about an hour and a half, Chen asked if he could be allowed to question Tsai himself.
“Could the court make an exception and let the defendant [Chen Shui-bian] directly ask the witness some questions?” Chen asked.
Presiding Judge Tsai Shou-hsun (蔡守訓) rejected the request, asking Tsai to step out for five minutes and ordering Chen and his lawyers to decide among themselves which questions to ask in order to have Shih ask questions on behalf of Chen.
Back in the courtroom. Tsai Ming-chieh expressed regret over his role in the case, especially because his sister, Tsai Mei-li (蔡美利), is critically ill. Tsai Mei-li was a classmate of the former first lady, and allegedly played a role in the money-laundering schemes.
“If I had never touched the land, none of this would have happened,” he said.
Shih raised doubts over the testimony Tsai Ming-chieh gave to Special Investigation Panel (SIP) prosecutors in previous questionings. Shih quoted Tsai as telling SIP prosecutors that former Chinatrust Financial Holding Co vice chairman Jeffrey Koo Jr (辜仲諒) didn't want to pay NT$200 million (US$6 million).
This contradicted what Tsai Ming-chieh said in court yesterday: “The land was difficult to sell, so I suggested [to Koo] increasing the commission.”
“In retrospect, I was piecing information together,” Tsai Ming-chieh said in response.
When prosecutors cross-examined him, he stressed that the money was not a political donation, but was a “commission” given to the former first lady as a way of thanking her for her help in the deal.
He said he admitted to bribing government officials in the land deal because he knew that his brother, Tsai Ming-che (蔡銘哲), had close contacts with government officials.
As a law graduate, Tsai Ming-chieh said he knew he had likely committed bribery.
When Shih asked Tsai Ming-chieh how he could have known the land deal was contracted because of the “first lady's influence,” he replied: “It was either [her] or Tsai Ming-che, because I've never talked about [ a commission] with the former first lady.”
All throughout the more than four hours of questioning, prosecutors and defense attorneys repeatedly interrupted each other with objections regarding their method of questioning.
When it was Chen Shui-bian's turn to comment, he expressed “shock” at prosecutor Wu Wen-chung (吳文忠) calling a political talk show a few days ago.
“He hasn't resigned as a prosecutor. Can he openly talk about the case in a television program?” Chen asked.
Leslie Koo took the stand in the afternoon. He testified that he paid a total of NT$400 million in commission to the former first lady.
Of this amount, NT$200 million was supposed to be paid by Jeffrey Koo, but Jeffrey Koo went back on his word when he saw Chen Shui-bian win the presidential election, against his expectations.
Chen is charged with embezzling NT$104 million (US$3.12 million) from a special presidential fund, receiving bribes in connection with a government land deal and laundering part of the funds by wiring the money to Swiss bank accounts.
He has repeatedly denied the charges, saying the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was persecuting him for his anti-China views.
Some legal experts have expressed concern about the handling of the case, including the court's decision to detain Chen before his trial and to switch the presiding judge.
Last month, a court rejected Chen's appeal against detention, arguing that he may collaborate with other defendants to destroy evidence if freed.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AGENCIES
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