A number of lawmakers who were reportedly the targets of telephone surveillance for years yesterday demanded explanations from the Ministry of Justice and denounced the abuse of wiretapping powers.
The latest edition of the Chinese-language Next Magazine, published yesterday, reported that the telephone calls of 13 former and sitting lawmakers had been tapped, in addition to those of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislative caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) and former DPP legislator Tang Bi-a (唐碧娥), whose cases had already been disclosed.
In the 113-seat legislature, one out of every nine lawmakers was wiretapped, it said.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Hsieh Kuo-liang (謝國樑), one of the 13 lawmakers, said that he never received any letter notifying him of the end of the wiretapping, as required by law, and asked the ministry to explain whether he had been under surveillance for two years, as the magazine reported.
“I was surprised by the report,” Hsieh said. “Had they ever entertained any suspicions of wrongdoing on my part that would justify them wiretapping my phone? Why didn’t they notify me of the wiretap? I hope that the ministry can give me an explanation,” Hsieh said.
KMT legislators Hsu Yao-chang (徐耀昌) and Chang Chia-chun (張嘉郡) said that they had never received any notice about being tapped either.
Hsu again demanded that Prosecutor-General Huang Shih-ming (黃世銘) either take a leave of absence or be suspended pending an investigation into his alleged misconduct in handing cases at the center of the recent political turmoil.
“How can Huang be so indifferent when everyone is talking about the abuse of power in wiretapping and the problem-plagued wiretapping system?” Hsu said.
The way the Special Investigation Division (SID) of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office wiretapped lawmakers was “extremely improper,” Hsu said.
Chang said she was not surprised that lawmakers were the targets of wiretaps and that she believed more were wiretapped by the SID.
Former DPP legislator Wang Shih-chien (王世堅) said that the most recent disclosure once again proved that the SID has been used by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) like the notorious Ming Dynasty secret police.
Former DPP legislator Kuo Jung-chung (郭榮宗), who was reportedly tapped on suspicion of vote-buying, said he guessed that the SID prosecutors eavesdropped on his telephone conversations to help his electoral opponent steal information.
The SID was used by the government as a political tool, Kuo said.
The ministry later yesterday confirmed that 15 legislators were wiretapped via the legislature’s switchboard number 0972-630-235, but added that they were unable to record any conversations.
The efforts spanned a period of six years and were launched over suspicions of legislators’ involvement in corruption or vote-buying cases, the ministry said.
“We found there were 15 cases in which prosecutors applied to wiretap the legislature’s switchboard, but those prosecutors mistook the number for personal phone numbers,” Minister of Justice Lo Ying-shay (羅瑩雪) said outside the legislature.
Saying prosecutors later found that the wiretaps were unable to record any telephone conversations, the minister said they “are not so serious.”
She said there were 13 cases of wiretapping in 2007, and two in 2008. After an amendment to the Communication Security and Surveillance Act (通訊保障及監察法) was put into effect in December 2007, wiretapping requirements became stricter.
At a press conference, DPP legislators raised questions about whether the ministry was lying when it said that the legislature’s central exchange could not be recorded.
DPP Legislator Wu Ping-jui (吳秉叡) said the Hualien District Prosecutors’ Office had wiretapped the line in 2007 for a bribery case allegedly involving then-legislator Tang, and it recorded telephone conversations through the wiretapping.
Wu showed Hualien District Court’s transcripts of telephone conversations that were obtained through the wiretapping.
The ministry said the recording was made by wiretapping a personal telephone that made calls to the legislature’s general line.
Meanwhile, lawmakers on the Judiciary and Organic Laws and Statutes Committee formed a task force to probe the wiretapping controversy and passed a resolution authorizing the task force to examine Huang’s telephone records and records of Huang entering the Presidential Office and Ma’s residence to report on the alleged improper lobbying case involving Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) and Ker, as well as documents from the ministry, the Judicial Yuan and the National Police Agency related to wiretapping.
The ministry concluded earlier this month that the SID’s wiretapping of the legislature’s switchboard stemmed from administrative errors, rather than a deliberate attempt to eavesdrop on legislators, but lawmakers across party lines doubted the conclusion.