Commissioner acquitted in bribe case

‘POLITICAL WITCH HUNT’::Although the Yunlin County commissioner was found not guilty of accepting a NT$5 million bribe, the DPP said the damage has been done

By Vincent Y. Chao  /  STAFF REPORTER

Sat, Apr 30, 2011 - Page 1

A local court yesterday quashed charges of bribery against Yunlin County Commissioner Su Chih-fen (蘇治芬), who once led an 11-day hunger strike to protest against what she said was a political prosecution.

The verdict reached by the Yunlin District Court gave some relief to the embattled Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) commissioner who was overwhelmingly re-elected in 2009 -despite the -judicial proceedings.

Su had faced charges of accepting NT$5 million (US$174,845) in bribes to speed up approval of a landfill in the county by skipping an environmental assessment. Prosecutors had argued for a 15-year sentence and an eight-year suspension of civil rights.

“There’s nothing happy about this ruling today. I have been innocent from the start in this case,” Su somberly told hundreds of supporters after the verdict was announced. “I have never accepted even one dollar in bribes.”

Suggesting that the decision relied on testimony from a key witness, Su said that she would like to thank a special person that “stood as firm as a mountain.”

“There are many things that I will not be able to disclose publicly, but I would like to especially thank a special friend,” Su said. “I especially express gratitude to you and am especially thankful for you.”

The ruling was keenly watched after Su and other DPP politicians said that prosecutors were on a “political witch hunt” to find misconduct connected to the Yunlin County commissioner.

Hundreds of supporters, including local politicians and community figures, gathered outside the courtroom, expressing support and proclaiming Su’s innocence before the ruling was announced in the afternoon.

Su immediately proclaimed her innocence when first detained in late 2008 and went on an 11-day hunger strike that saw her being rushed to the hospital, instead of paying a NT$6 million bail that she said she could not afford.

She has been called the poorest local commissioner nationwide, with financial disclosure records showing that she and her husband are more than NT$20 million in debt.

During her defense, lawyers acknowledged that the NT$5 million bribe was given, but said that the money was immediately returned by Lin Yuan-chuan (林源泉), Yunlin County’s deputy commissioner.

“We hope that Su is the last victim of Taiwan’s judicial system,” said Lee Ching-yung (李進勇), Su’s lawyer.

In a statement released after the verdict, the DPP called on prosecutors to thoroughly review the case, saying that the process was “flawed.”

DPP spokesman Cheng Wen-tsang (鄭文燦) said the controversy had irreversibly damaged Su’s reputation.

“Despite the not guilty ruling, the damage has been done,” Cheng said. “Despite a lack of evidence, [prosecutors] had brazenly searched and detained a local commissioner — creating divisions within Taiwanese society.”

Chiang Teh-lung (蔣得龍), spokesman for the Yunlin District Prosecutors’ Office, said prosecutors would decide later whether to appeal the case to the Taiwan High Court.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY RICH CHANG