The National Science Council, the Ministry of Education and Academia Sinica yesterday issued a joint declaration claiming legal support for professors embroiled in a fake receipt scandal, while calling for the prosecutors to desist from prosecuting the professors on charges of graft.
Changhua County prosecutors on Friday indicted 12 professors from four universities — National Chung Hsing University, National Yang Ming University, the National Defense Medical Center and National Taichung University of Education — for allegedly using false receipts to claim reimbursement.
The indictments are only the first round, with more than 100 professors nationwide suspected of involvement in a scam in which they obtained false receipts to claim reimbursement, prosecutors said.
Minister of Education Chiang Wei-ling (蔣偉寧), National Science Council Minister Cyrus Chu (朱敬一) and Academia Sinica President Wong Chi-huey (翁啟惠) issued the joint declaration yesterday.
Their statement said that the indictment has not only severely damaged morale in academia, but would also give the international community the false impression that Taiwanese academia is rampant with cases of graft because of its “backward legal system.”
It said that if professors had moved the money allotted for purchase of materials into personal accounts, or had purchased materials irrelevant to their research, there would be a legal basis for an indictment.
However, if professors used receipts for research material or research devices for reimbursement, then subjectively speaking they did not have the intention of graft, the statement said.
Indicting these professors on a graft charge would be too severe and unfair, and would not follow the principle of proportionality, it said.
It added that the ministry, the council and Academia Sinica would hire lawyers to look into the issue and provide the professors with legal support, calling on the prosecutors to observe the last item of Article 6 of the Basic Law of Science and Technology (科學技術基本法) and not pursue indictments on graft, and for the legislature and the Ministry of Justice to look into the essence of academic study to better distinguish the lines separating legal and academic issues.
It is the hope of the institutions and of the numerous academics across the country that the line can be clarified, the statement said.
According to a professor at National Taiwan University, the false receipts issue stem from a possibly flawed system. The professor said that doing research is a race against time and often professors do not have time to apply for funds to make purchases through the normal channels.
He cited as an example that if experimental equipment is bought for three years of use, but breaks down after one year, it would be a complex process to apply for funds all over again to replace the equipment.
Some academics would then use false receipts to pay for a new purchase so they can continue with their research, “otherwise, the trouble could be even bigger if we couldn’t finish it by the deadline,” the professor said.