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Mon, Jan 24, 2000 - Page 4 News List

Anti-corruption drive renewed

UNDERWORLD POLITICS A culture of bribery and the large number of convicted criminals among the island's lawmakers is an accepted fact of life for many, but new laws and renewed zeal by the Judicial Yuan offer some hope for radical change

By Irene Lin  /  STAFF REPORTER

It's a widely known fact in Taiwan that corruption and crime are ways of life for many of the public's elected representatives. So, it came as some surprise when the Judicial Yuan boldly released its database of charges brought against as many as 205 elected representatives last October.

The politicians on record -- including National Assembly deputies, legislators, city and county councilors and township commissioners -- have been charged with a variety of offenses, from felonies such as murder and abduction, to misdemeanors such as slander and breach of assembly law.

Arguably, these people cannot be called criminals until their final convictions. But even more worrying is the real mafia among those public representatives have not even been named in the record, according to analysts.

Chen Dung-sheng (陳東升), a sociology professor at National Taiwan University, said Taiwan's gangster organizations have a notable interest in running for public office, and they have a significant presence in the legislatures at both local and central levels.

"Actually, there are more mafia representatives at the local rather than the central level. But the harm done by those in the central legislature is far greater than by those local representatives."

LEGAL CHANGE

On the last day of the legislative session on Jan. 15 the legislature passed an amendment to detention rules. The amendment, which gives the courts power to re-detain a person, is widely tagged as a "rule for Wu Tse-yuan" (伍澤元) -- an independent legislator whose controversial release on medical grounds has highlighted a loophole in the detention rules.

Wu, former Pingtung County commissioner, was convicted on charges of corruption and sentenced to 15 years in prison by the Taiwan High Court in 1996, with a right to appeal.

In March of 1998, Wu was released from detention under "mysterious circumstances," according to critics, on a NT$3.6 million bail, ostensibly for medical treatment. Soon after he was released, Wu was able to run a lively campaign for the legislative elections and was elected in December 1998.

Despite widespread criticism over Wu's release, the court was unable to re-detain him under the old detention rules. To this day, Wu is still appealing his 1996 conviction and chances are that he can remain free as long as the process of appeal continues.

Ever since Wu began his election campaign there have been increasing calls for amendments to the detention rules. This was also a reaction to a long existent problem, which is that a large proportion of local-level public representatives have run election campaigns after being released from detention.

The new rules make it possible for the court to restrict what activities a suspect can do after he is released from detention. If the restrictions are not followed, the court can re-detain the suspect.

Moreover, the suspects charged with felonies punishable by the death penalty or a life sentence are subject to stricter rules. That is, the court can re-detain them as soon as grounds for their previous release do not sustain anymore.

Passed at the last minute by the legislature, the new detention rules are seen as a first remedy to the country's political ills. Another possible remedy emerged when the Ministry of Justice recommended an amendment to the election law last week to restrict the chances of mafia members running for elections.

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