President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday filed a defamation suit against the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) for spreading what he described as an unfounded report claiming that he met with an underground bookmaker in September to raise campaign funds.
The Chinese-language Next Magazine on Wednesday reported that Ma had met Chen Ying-chu (陳盈助), whom it labeled a “super-illegal betting ring leader,” on Sept. 10 and obtained NT$300 million (US$9.9 million) in political donations. According to the magazine, Chen is allegedly in charge of major underground betting activities on local elections.
While the Presidential Office, Ma’s re-election campaign office and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) have denied the allegations, DPP spokesperson Liang Wen-chieh (梁文傑) used the report to criticize Ma on a television talk show last week.
Yesterday, Ma had his lawyer and KMT spokeswoman Lai Su-ju (賴素如) file the suit with the Taipei District Court in Ma’s name against the DPP and Liang.
Because the head of the DPP is the party’s legal representative, DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) would be listed as one of the defendants. Tsai is also the party’s presidential candidate and Ma’s main opponent in his bid for re-election on Jan. 14.
Lai read a six-point statement on behalf of Ma about the suit, which is asking for NT$2 million in damages and a written apology from the DPP to be published in Taiwan’s four major dailies.
“I’m completely confident that all my deeds have stood up to and will stand up to the severest scrutiny,” Ma said in the statement.
Without bothering to verify whether the report was true, the DPP leadership and pro-DPP television talk shows repeated the charges and accused Ma of allying himself with underground figures, the statement said.
Ma said in the statement that Next Magazine and the DPP had disseminated fabricated accusations and misled voters by repeatedly tarnishing his name, even after he asked Tsai and Liang for a clarification and apology.
After not receiving a response, Ma decided to file the suit, according to the statement.
“I want my name cleared, the truth unearthed and venomous, low-class electioneering stopped,” Ma said in the statement.
Tsai said she would not comment on the details of the case because the lawsuit had been filed, but added that Ma owed the public a clear explanation of why he had met with specific influential people.
Tsai declined to answer whether Chen had donated money to the DPP, saying it was unnecessary to respond to groundless accusations.
The lawsuit was Ma’s attempt to shift attention away from his reported meetings with Chen, DPP spokesperson Kang Yu-cheng (康裕成) told a press conference.
Kang said that while it would take a professional baseball player only one meeting with bookmakers to ruin his or her professional career, Ma acted like nothing had happened after acknowledging he had met Chen twice in 2008 and 2009, and then questioned the DPP’s accusation.
Regardless of how many times Ma had met with the bookmaker, “the fact is Ma met the wrong person at the wrong time,” Kang said.
Ma should explain what he and Chen discussed during their meeting “and hopefully, the judicial system will eventually reveal the truth,” Kang added.
“While Ma said he was reluctant to file the lawsuit, he has filed suits against many people during his political career. My comments about the meeting and the NT$300 million donation were not groundless accusations, since Ma had admitted his relationship with Chen,” Liang said. “And it is ironic for Ma to file a defamation lawsuit because it would not constitute defamation if his relationship with Chen were a ‘normal’ one like he said.”
Ma still needs to explain why he had met Chen several times before major elections and why they met in Chiayi during Ma’s visit to Pingtung County in September 2009 to inspect relief work after Typhoon Morakot, he added.
On Thursday, the KMT threatened to take legal action against the magazine if it failed to clarify the article and offer an apology within three days. The magazine on Sunday said it would not apologize, saying the reported information had all been verified.
King Pu-tsung (金溥聰), chief executive of Ma’s re-election campaign, also issued a statement yesterday saying the campaign team would refrain from suing the magazine for now, but accused it of lacking journalistic professionalism and integrity, and abusing the freedom of speech guaranteed by the Constitution.
Chen, on the other hand, was reported by the Central News Agency to have filed a defamation suit against Next Magazine.