Former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was yesterday sentenced to 18 years in prison by the Taiwan High Court for taking bribes in relation to a series of bank mergers during his eight years in power, fined NT$180 million (US$5.95 million) and stripped of his civil rights for nine years.
His wife, Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍), was sentenced to 11 years and fined NT$102 million in the same case and stripped of her civil rights for eight years.
The ruling overturned a ruling in November last year by the Taipei District Court, which cleared the former president and his wife of all charges over merger approvals during the second phase of his administration’s financial reforms, based on a lack of evidence that they received bribes from financial holding companies to ensure the mergers went in their favor. Chen and Wu’s son, Chen Chih-chung (陳致中), and daughter-in-law, Huang Jui-ching (黃睿靚), were also acquitted in that ruling.
Special Investigation Panel (SIP) prosecutors charged the defendants in December 2009, alleging that bankers had bribed the former president into pressuring the Ministry of Finance to approve the mergers during financial reforms promoted by the Chen administration to encourage greater consolidation in the banking sector.
In the November ruling Judge Chou Chan-chun (周占春) said that according to the Anti-Corruption Act (貪汙治罪條例), a public official who takes bribes in exchange for favorable decisions or policies violates the law, but since the Constitution does not give the president specific powers with relation to bank mergers, Chen Shui-bian could not have been bribed by the banks to influence the mergers.
The SIP appealed that ruling to the Taiwan High Court.
In addition to heavy sentences for Chen Shui-bian and his wife, Chen Chih-chung was sentenced to one year in prison and Huang to six months. The two were also fined NT$4 million and NT$2 million respectively.
In a written verdict, Taiwan High Court Presiding Judge Chang Chuan-li (張傳栗) said the powers of the president had expanded following seven constitutional amendments, concluding that “the president certainly could influence” decisionmaking on the merger of financial institutions.
Speaking to the media after the ruling, Chen Shui-bian’s lawyer Chen Wen-lung (鄭文龍) said his client was disappointed and would appeal the ruling.
Chen Shui-bian, Wu Shu-jen and Chen Chih-chung can all -appeal the ruling.
An official from Chen Shui--bian’s office, Chiang Chih-ming (江志銘) added that it was hard not to conclude that the sentence was politically motivated.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) spokesperson Chuang Ruei-hsiung (莊瑞雄) said court rulings in a democratic country should demonstrate consistency in their logic and that the judicial system had to be seen to be consistent and understandable in its rulings to be trusted.
The “erratic changes” in sentencing from the first to the second trials do not reflect such consistency, Chuang said, adding that it was little wonder people had lost faith in the judicial system.
The timing and divergent rulings are suspicious, Chuang said, adding that it was hard not to think that political motives were at play, given the presidential and legislative elections in January.
“The DPP adheres to the spirit of democracy and rule of law, and we hope the judiciary will focus on the need for a just trial so that the credibility of the judicial system can be restored,” Chuang said.