President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday urged the justice system to avoid “detaching itself from the outside world” and “departing from public expectations” after the Taipei District Court on Friday acquitted former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and his wife, Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍), of money laundering and corruption charges, a verdict that prosecutors have said they would appeal.
As head of state, Ma said it was “inconvenient” for him to comment on an ongoing case. However, while the judiciary must be independent — something he emphasized during his Double Ten National Day address — it must not isolate itself from the outside world or deviate from public expectations, he said.
“The judiciary must protect the interests of the good and the honest. That is the least the system can do,” he said.
Ma made the remarks at an election event in Tainan County in the morning.
On Friday, the Taipei District Court said it found no evidence that Chen Shui-bian took NT$600 million (US$20 million) in exchange for promises not to block separate mergers initiated by Cathay Financial Holdings (國泰金控) and Yuanta Financial Holding (元大金控).
The spokesman for the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office Special Investigation Panel, Chen Hung-ta (陳宏達), said yesterday the panel would appeal the verdict to the Taiwan High Court.
The spokesman said that in their ruling, the judges had “excessively narrowed” the definition of the authority of the president as stipulated in the Constitution, adding that such a definition could mean that whoever is president could do whatever he or she wants, as long as it is not in the scope of his or her official authority.
Friday’s ruling said that according to the Anti-Corruption Act (貪汙治罪條例), a public official violates the law by taking bribes in exchange for decisions or policies in favor of the bribers, but that according to the Constitution, the president’s duties do not include policies on bank mergers, so Chen was therefore unable to receive money from banks to help their merger proposals.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Secretary-General King Pu-tsung (金溥聰) said he hoped further investigation would be conducted so the public — which “desires so much social justice and judicial impartiality” — would not be “disappointed.”
While the verdict compared Chen and Ma and said Ma’s recent behavior went beyond his presidential duties, Presidential Office Spokesman Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強) dismissed it as a “bad comparison.”
Lo said the public would reach its own conclusions regarding the verdict and that the Presidential Office would not comment on the prosecutors’ decision to appeal.
However, Lo said it was incumbent upon him to provide clarifications on presidential authority, as there was apparently a yawning chasm between the court’s interpretation of presidential duties and the constitutional practices and public expectations.
As the president was popularly elected, Lo said the people expected him to listen to their grievances and resolve their problems, and it was only natural for the president to ask government agencies to respond to public opinions and set policies accordingly.
Meanwhile, the KMT said it would add anti-corruption to the theme of the Nov. 21 march they are organizing to boost the prospects of Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin’s (郝龍斌) re-election bid.
King declined to comment on whether the ruling in Chen’s case would motivate KMT supporters to come out and vote on Nov. 27. However, he said his party would add the themes of opposing corruption and insisting on judicial reform to the march.
Meanwhile, KMT Greater Kao-hsiung mayoral candidate Huang Chao-shun’s (黃昭順) campaign invited Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊) to join her signature campaign against Friday’s ruling.
Huang’s campaign spokesman Tu Chien-heng (杜建衡) delivered an invitation to Chen Chu’s campaign headquarters urging the latter to support Huang’s demand that the Special Investigation Panel immediately appeal the ruling and voice support for Ma’s anti-corruption campaign.
Chen Chu has kept a low profile since the ruling.
In response, Chao Tien-lin (趙天麟), spokesman for Chen Chu’s campaign, called Huang’s signature drive an act of populism, saying that Huang, a KMT legislator, should return to the legislature if she really wanted to push judicial reform.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY RICH CHANG, FLORA WANG AND AP