Fri, Feb 11, 2005 - Page 2 News List

Future looks grim for graft busters

POLITICAL FOOTBALL The Black Gold Investigation Center is caught between political maneuvering and lower-level prosecutors, but few doubt its achievements

By Rich Chang  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Taiwan High Court's Black Gold Investigation Center is facing an uncertain future.

Incoming Minister of Justice Morley Shih (施茂林) has admitted that there is no consensus on whether the center should continue to operate, but he said he would listen to prosecutors, the Cabinet, and lawmakers in deciding on the center's future.

Former justice minister Chen Ding-nan (陳定南) set up the Black Gold Investigation Center in July 2000 to serve as a special prosecutorial office. It has four branches in the Taiwan High Court Prosecutor's Office in Taipei, Taichung, Tainan and Kaohsiung.

The center was conceived as a powerful, efficient and professional task force in the fight against political corruption.

But last June Chen attempted to close the center down because funding had become too difficult to secure.

The center did not close, however, because of opposition by the center's prosecutors, Eric Chen (陳瑞仁), Hou Kuan-jen (侯寬仁) and Shen Ming-lun (沈明倫).

Shen told reporters that closing the center would be inconsistent with and damaging to the ministry's anti-corruption policy.

Last month, three opposition lawmakers under investigation for alleged acts of bribery by the center threatened to cut the center's proposed NT$7 million budget in retaliation.

The tactic failed after prosecutors informed reporters of the link. Soon after, other lawmakers and two non-governmental organizations stood up to support the center.

The legislature then approved the center's budget for this year.

However, some aggrieved district prosecutors have cast doubt on the role of the center. They say that much of its work overlaps with their own.

"There is no difference between the Black Gold Investigation Center's work and that of the district anti-corruption task forces," said a Taipei District Court prosecutor, who asked to remain anonymous.

"The center has became a symbol of the government's determination to crack down on political corruption, so eradicating the center would be seen as giving in to corruption on the government's part," he said.

"But this is a misunderstanding, because the anti-corruption task forces under district prosecutor offices have been doing the same job. So the closure would not mean the government was turning a blind eye to corruption," the prosecutor said.

However, center prosecutor Eric Chen, who is also the spokesman for the Prosecutors' Reform Association, said the Black Gold Investigation Center should be praised and allowed to continue operating because it had investigated and prosecuted serious and sensitive cases that might not be easily resolved at a district level.

Examples of these were cases implicating former independent legislator Lo Fu-chu (羅福助), Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Ho Chih-hui (何智輝) and independent Legislator Yen Ching-piao (顏清標), as well as the Hotel Royal Chihpen loans case and the Jin-Wen scandal.

Eric Chen said that unlike district prosecutors, the center could focus on a single, serious case and take it to court quickly.

The center was also authorized to use the resources of district prosecutors, the Bureau of Investigation, military police and regular police, he said.

But most of all, he said, the center could better withstand political interference.

But the operations of the center seemingly conflict with the Code of Criminal Procedure (刑事訴訟法) and the Court Organic Law (法院組織法).

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