Ma starts 2008 bid after indictment

`MR. CLEAN' GETS DIRTY:Ma Ying-jeou was indicted on corruption charges and resigned as KMT chairman. But he had a surprise for those who thought his career was over

By Rich Chang and Mo Yan-chih  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Tue, Feb 13, 2007 - Page 1

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chief Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) stepped down

from his post on Tuesday after prosecutors indicted him on corruption

charges, but immediately declared that he was innocent and would seek the

presidency in 2008.

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 on Tuesday 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.

INTENT?

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 Chow Mei-ching's (周美青) bank accounts every month.

Therefore, prosecutors said they believed Ma used the public funds for

private purposes.

Chang said Ma had included the money in his annual declaration of assets, as

required by the law.

EVIDENCE?

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 (余文), was indicted on corruption charges late

last year for using fraudulent receipts to claim reimbursements from the

special allowance fund.

Prosecutors with the Black Gold Investigation Center — part of the Taiwan

High Court Prosecutors' Office — also held a press conference on Tuesday to

discuss the probe.

Prosecutor Eric Chen (陳瑞仁), who indicted first lady Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍)

and three presidential aides on corruption and forgery charges in connection

with the handling of the presidential office's state affairs fund, and Prosecutor Hou Kuan-jen (侯寬仁), were both involved in the investigation.

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.

The prosecutor said he looked forward to debating the legal issues of the

case during Ma's trail.

DEFIANCE

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.

SUPPORT

Meanwhile, former KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰) issued a statement extending support for Ma, adding that the indictment could not hide the corruption of the Democratic Progressive Party government.

“We believe that the people believe in Chairman Ma's integrity, and we all

support him in fighting for it,” Lien said.

Ma's lawyer, Song Yao-ming (宋耀明) challenged the indictment, saying that

Ma was innocent of using the special allowance fund for private gain and had

had no intention of embezzling funds.

“A prosecutor's job is not to retrieve money for the government, but to find

out whether or not he has the intention to violate the regulations,” Song

said.

The KMT also defended Ma, releasing a report on its investigation into the

special allowance case just 30 minutes after the indictment.

The report said that Ma's wiring of half of his special allowance into a

personal account was in accordance with government regulations, and the move should not be seen as embezzlement.

KMT member Ma Yi-kung (馬以工), who was on the committee that helped to

compile the report, said Ma had donated more than NT$69 million (US$2.09

million) to public welfare groups over the past eight years.

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.

Ma Ying-jeou offered his resignation in accordance with the KMT's “black

gold exclusion clause,” which states that membership in the party must be

suspended if a member is indicted.

The clause was tightened under Ma Ying-jeou's chairmanship to impose tougher restrictions on party members and candidates. The party's previous

regulations stated that a member could only be suspended if convicted.

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 (蕭),

said that it was unnecessary for Ma to resign.

“Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) didn't resign over the `state affairs' fund [case], so why should Chairman Ma resign?” she said.

Meanwhile, KMT Vice Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) was selected acting

chairman for now.

Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), a KMT heavyweight who has hinted at his interest in running in the 2008 election, made only circumspect

comments about the developments.

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 (謝欣霓) filed a lawsuit with the Black Gold Investigation Center last August, accusing Ma of embezzling half of his

monthly special mayoral allowance, or NT$170,000.

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