In a surprise twist to the investigation of the foreign labor fraud case involving senior diplomat Jacqueline Liu (劉姍姍), the Control Yuan found that she had hired a Chinese woman as a housekeeper in a move that “raised national security concerns.”
The Control Yuan on Tuesday impeached the former director-general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in Kansas City, Missouri, as it completed its probe into her case.
Liu pleaded guilty in the US to US federal charges of mistreating two Philippine housekeepers, in exchange for being deported back to Taiwan.
The government watchdog found that a Chinese woman, Xie Dengfeng (謝登鳳), worked in Liu’s official residence for about two months between September and November last year after Liu’s second Philippine housekeeper ran away.
During that time Xie lived in the residence and was able to connect her personal computer to the router of Liu’s security telephone line.
Liu was charged with violating the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ rules issued on May 19, 1999, that prohibit its overseas missions from employing Chinese nationals.
The Control Yuan accused Liu of malfeasance, saying she had deliberately concealed Xie’s identity from the ministry because Xie, who is married to a US Vietnam War veteran surnamed Alexander, was identified to the ministry and Liu’s subordinates at TECO as Sharon Alexander, the statement said.
According to the impeachment statement, Liu defended her actions during questioning by Control Yuan members by saying that she did not know about the rules forbidding the hiring of Chinese for TECO jobs and she did not find it inappropriate because “there are many ministry staffers who have married Chinese women.”
The hiring of Xie and Liu’s failure to conduct an adequate pre-employment screening into her background raised serious concerns over possible leaks of national security information, which added up to a “dereliction of duty,” the Control Yuan statement said.
Liu was deported to Taiwan on Feb. 15.
She returned to work at the foreign ministry with the title of “director-general on home assignment,” but she has been suspended since then for the duration of the investigation.
In a statement issued after her return to Taiwan, Liu apologized for tarnishing the government’s and the ministry’s image, but denied allegations she had mistreated her Filipina housekeepers, even though the plea agreement she reached in the US required her to pay US$80,044 in restitution to the two women, who had only received US$590 per month for working 16 to 18-hour days, six-and-a-half days a week.
Control Yuan members Louis Chao (趙榮耀), Ger Yeong-kuang (葛永光) and Liu Yuh-san’s (劉玉山) investigation supported the mistreatment accusation made by US prosecutors in a FBI affidavit.
The Control Yuan members found Liu hired her second Filipina housekeeper via the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in the Philippines under a contract that promised to pay her US$1,240 a month for a five-day, eight-hours-per-day work week, which the housekeeper used to apply for a US work visa from the US embassy in Manila.
Liu then had the housekeeper sign a letter saying that she was willing to have US$790 deducted from her salary to cover the cost of room and board, healthcare and insurance and stipulating that the letter was part of the contract signed earlier, which did not conform to US laws, the Control Yuan said.
Liu’s case caused a controversy between Taipei and Washington over whether officials from Taiwan on assignment in the US qualified for diplomatic immunity.
Taipei initially lodged protests with the US over Liu’s arrest and detention and insisted that the diplomat was entitled to the same type of immunity the US grants to the foreign diplomatic corps, citing a 1980 agreement between the two countries on privileges, exemptions and immunities.
After failing to come to terms with the US over the agreement, the ministry shifted its approach by separating the immunity issue from Liu’s case to secure her prompt release.
The US view is that Liu, whose status was equal to that of a consular official, was only immune from legal suits and processes related to acts performed within the scope of her authorized functions under the 1980 agreement.
Before Liu was arrested by FBI agents on Nov. 10 last year after emerging from a restroom in the building that houses the TECO office, FBI agents had visited Liu at her residence at 7:30pm on Oct. 13 to question her about the abscondment of her second Filipina housekeeper, but Liu did not report the situation to the ministry immediately, the Control Yuan said.
That delay and carelessness was a serious mistake and had a negative bearing on the ministry’s handling of Liu’s case because the ministry failed to evaluate the level of assertiveness of the FBI in pursuing this case, the Control Yuan said.
Liu should have insisted that she enjoyed diplomatic immunity under the 1980 agreement and should not have allowed FBI agents to enter her residence or have answered their questions, the Control Yuan said.
The government watchdog voted 8-5 in favor of impeachment.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Pan Men-an (潘孟安) said Liu’s actions and her abuse of her employees have tarnished Taiwan’s international image.
The scandal was kept under wraps because an inspection mechanism, implemented by the previous DPP administration, was terminated by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) after President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) took office in 2008, Pan said.
Pan called for an inspection mechanism on foreign embassies, a complete budgetary review on those offices and an immediate reprimand on Liu by the Judicial Yuan’s Commission on the Disciplinary Sanctions of Functionaries.
Additional reporting by Chris Wang