President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) came under fire yesterday after the publication of an open letter by a group of international academics and observers of Taiwanese politics, who expressed concern over the lack of evenhandedness and impartiality in the judicial system’s handling of a corruption case against former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝).
The letter, signed by 39 academics and published in the Taipei Times (Letter, Aug. 2, page 8), expressed concern about “erosion of justice and democracy in Taiwan” as exemplified by the corruption case against Lee, who was charged on June 30 with embezzling US$7.8 million from secret diplomatic funds.
The letter said the timing of the charges, which came 16 years after the alleged events took place, was questionable and added that the indictment was likely brought because of Lee’s outspokenness on current political issues, in particular the January presidential election.
They also said that “the problem with the administration of secret diplomatic funds appears to be systemic, primarily because of the lack of transparency associated with the funds and vague guidelines for their use,” and if Lee was indicted, other high-ranking officials at the time should also be investigated.
The signatories urged the Ma administration to “ensure that the judicial system is held to the highest standards of objectivity and fairness.”
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) spokesperson Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁) said yesterday that the Lee case was not the first time that the Ma administration has pursued charges against pan-green politicians nor was the letter the first time foreign observers have expressed concern about judicial practices under the Ma government.
“When a leader uses the judiciary as a tool to rule, we don’t see much difference between this leader and [Nazi leader] Adolph Hitler,” Chen said.
Chen urged Ma to respond seriously to the open letter seriously because judicial practices under his administration have jeopardized public trust in judicial integrity and have hurt Taiwan’s global image.
A previous letter signed by 34 international observers, including former American Institute in Taiwan chairman Nat Bellocchi, in April expressed similar concerns regarding charges that thousands of documents had gone missing under prominent former DPP officials. At the time, the Presidential Office denied the charges were “politically motivated” and said the accusation in the open letter was “groundless.”
Presidential Office spokesman Fan Chiang Tai-chi (范姜泰基) said yesterday that Ma had on numerous occasions stressed his respect for the judiciary and promised not to interfere with individual cases.
“For President Ma, judicial independence is a crucial line of defense in a democratic nation and it requires a joint effort by the government, the opposition parties and the public to protect it,” he said. “Time will prove that President Ma has always respected the judicial process and that there is judicial independence.”
Ma had made similar statements on Lee’s indictment in a press conference last month, saying that he respected the judiciary and that he would not allow any interference in ongoing legal cases.
Additional reporting by Mo Yan-chiH