The Taiwan High Court yesterday quashed a two-year sentence handed down to former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislator Diane Lee (李慶安) by a lower court and acquitted her of fraud over a dual-nationality controversy.
The court said prosecutors could appeal the case to the Supreme Court.
In March 2008, a number of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers sued Lee for fraud and corruption because she maintained US citizenship while serving as a Taipei city councilor and then as a legislator. Elected officials are not allowed to hold dual citizenship.
At the time, Lee claimed she mistakenly believed her US citizenship would automatically become invalid when she took up a public position.
In January 2009, the Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office received confirmation from the US Department of State that Lee’s US citizenship remained valid.
Prosecutors said that on personnel forms she filled out as a Taipei City councilor in 1994 and during her three terms as a lawmaker starting in 1998, Lee deliberately left blank a field asking whether she held citizenship from a country other than the Republic of China.
In September 2009, the Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office indicted Lee on charges of fraud. Prosecutors accused Lee of intentionally concealing her US citizenship during one term as a Taipei city councilor and three terms as a legislator, during which she was paid more than NT$100 million (US$3 million).
On Feb. 5 last year, the Taipei District Court found her guilty on four counts of fraud and sentenced her to two years in prison.
The Taiwan High Court’s ruling said that although Lee had dual citizenship and her elected status should have been invalidated by the Central Election Committee, the commission had maintained Lee’s elected status, which was an administrative error. Nevertheless, because Lee maintained her position as a Taipei City councilor and legislator, accepting her salary could not be seen as fraud, the ruling said.
The Taipei City Council, the commission and the legislature were obliged to examine Lee’s citizenship status during her terms as a councilor and as a legislator, but those agencies never questioned Lee about her citizenship status, and because Lee was able to keep her status, taking her salary could not be regarded as fraud, the ruling said.
Lee, daughter of former premier Lee Huan (李煥), said in a statement that she felt relieved that justice had been served.
KMT Legislator Hsieh Kuo-liang (謝國樑) said it was “unfair” to accuse Diane Lee of fraud since she had performed well as both a city councilor and as a legislator.
However, the DPP said the ruling went against people’s expectations and common sense.
The ruling was like a “game--fixing call,” said DPP spokesman Chuang Ruei-hsiung (莊瑞雄).
The public was not happy with the Taipei District Court’s ruling in the first trial because it did not charge Lee with corruption and yet yeterday’s verdict was even more shocking, he said.
Liang Wen-jie (梁文傑), another DPP spokesman, said the ruling could set a dangerous precedent because it was the first case involving public servants’ dual citizenship, which is prohibited by the Nationality Act (國籍法).
“By pronouncing Lee innocent, you’re telling public servants they do not commit a crime by holding dual citizenship, although they will be discharged from their duties, and that they don’t need to return their salaries,” Liang said. “You’re encouraging people to commit crimes and cheat.”