The Taipei District court yesterday held the first hearing in a case involving Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in a legal battle that could decide whether Wang can stay on as legislative speaker.
Wang was represented by three lawyers in the case that he brought against the KMT in a bid to retain his party membership.
The KMT has accused Wang, 72, of improper lobbying on behalf of Democratic Progressive Party caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) to stop prosecutors from appealing a not-guilty verdict handed down to Ker in a breach-of-trust suit in late June.
Wang’s lawyers argued that the party’s disciplinary committee abused its power and violated the principle of fairness when it decided on Sept. 11 to revoke Wang’s membership.
However, the lawyers representing the KMT said that Wang lobbied officials, that the committee’s decision fell within the realm of self-governance of a political party and that Wang’s behavior merited such a disciplinary measure.
The three-judge panel yesterday ruled to give both parties three weeks to prepare and submit their written statements, after which the panel will set a date for the next hearing.
A revocation of Wang’s membership, if left to stand, would lead to his disqualification as a KMT-appointed legislator-at-large and, by extension, his position as head of the legislature, a job the 38-year veteran lawmaker has held for nearly 15 years.
Along with the lawsuit, Wang filed for — and won — a court injunction to keep his relationship with the party intact pending a verdict on the case.
Wang admitted to making calls to then-minister of justice Tseng Yung-fu (曾勇夫) and Taiwan High Prosecutors’ Office Head Prosecutor Chen Shou-huang (陳守煌), but said they only discussed the need for appeals in general and not any specific case.
Lin Shiow-tao (林秀濤), a junior prosecutor in charge of Ker’s case, did not appeal Ker’s verdict after a meeting with Chen.
Lin and Chen are being investigated by a panel charged with reviewing prosecutors’ performance.
The improper lobbying allegations came to light on Sept. 6, when a special team of top prosecutors revealed Wang’s telephone discussions with Ker about his calls to Tseng and Chen, obtained via wiretaps conducted by the Special Investigation Division of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office.
A political storm ensued, with Wang’s supporters and government critics condemning alleged interference in legislative affairs by the KMT, not least by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who before the KMT disciplinary committee decision publicly said that Wang was no longer fit to serve as speaker.
The wiretapping of legislators’ phones and the way Wang’s case was handled also gave ammunition to Wang’s sympathizers.
There have been calls within the KMT in recent weeks to reinstate Wang, although neither the party nor Wang’s lawyers have brought up the idea of an out-of-court settlement in the run-up to the court hearing.
Wang could serve out his term as speaker, due to end in January 2016, given the three-tier trial system and the right of the losing side to appeal several times before a final verdict is reached.
Additional reporting by Chang Wen-chuan