Mon, Sep 12, 2005 - Page 2 News List

Prosecutors turn bad with a little help from the law

BY RICH CHANG  /  STAFF REPORTER

Several prosecutors have recently been detained or released on bail on corruption charges, damaging the reputation of the nation's legal system. With the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) having launched an investigation into another 27 prosecutors, the profession is coming under fire, with some saying prosecutors have too much power and that institutional flaws are behind the problems.

A lead prosecutor at Kaohsiung's Taiwan High Prosecutors' Office, Chang Hsueh-ming (張學明), said prosecutors actually enjoy too much power. Chang said that under the Court Organic Law (法院組織法), the head prosecutor and lead prosecutor in each prosecutors' office should supervise the criminal cases handled by prosecutors. But in practice, this is difficult to carry out.

At the Taipei Prosecutors' Office and Kaohsiung Prosecutors' Office, for example, Chang said that each prosecutor handles 80 to 90 criminal cases a month. With about 100 prosecutors in each of the two offices, the head and lead prosecutors are too busy to oversee every case.

As a result, Chang said, prosecutors are able to decide whether or not to indict defendants, meaning that they enjoy more power than the law actually gives them.

After former Yunlin County prosecutor Hsu Wei-yu (徐維嶽) was detained for corruption last week, Minister of Justice Morley Shih (施茂林) said that the head and lead prosecutors should have reviewed the cases Hsu handled.

Shih has asked head prosecutors nationwide to carefully review the cases handled by their offices.

Shih acknowledged that among the roughly 1000 prosecutors nationwide, some are bound to be corrupt and he has asked head prosecutors to pay more attention to prosecutors' personal lives.

Shih said that former Chiayi prosecutor Sung Tsung-yi (宋宗儀) -- who has been detained since late last year on suspicion of having accepted NT$11.5 million in bribes from defendants, including those charged with murder and illegal gambling -- was notorious for going to hostess clubs with gangsters, and even running illegal casinos with them.

Hsu Wei-yu is another example. Evidence shows he often dined and went to hostess clubs with local police and gangsters, Shih said.

Shih said "prosecutors' personal lives can, to a certain degree, reveal whether or not they are clean."

Shih has asked head prosecutors to report to the ministry if prosecutors are found to have close relations with gangsters, those who run illegal businesses or local police.

Shih said that as part of a crackdown on bad prosecutors, the ministry has launched an investigation on another 27 prosecutors."

Chang said the nation's prosecutors have enjoyed more power since the implementation of a law in September 2003 that allows indictments to be suspended (緩起訴).

Chang said that under the law, prosecutors can suspend an indictment if the defendant has committed a minor crime or admits guilt.

Chang said the law was introduced to reduce the number of criminal cases sent through the legal system. It has effectively reduced prosecutors and judges' work burdens, but also gave prosecutors new rights.

"It is hard to prevent prosecutors from accepting bribes in exchange for suspending a defendant's indictment," Chang said.

Chang said when the law was drafted, some legal experts had been concerned that it might cause corruption problems, but the law was still passed.

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