Tue, Jan 17, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Empowerment of prosecutors is a mixed blessing

By Rich Chang  /  STAFF REPORTER

A more powerful prosecutorial system enacted last week by the legislature will help the nation attack corruption and strengthen the judicial branch, but there are concerns that prosecutors might abuse their new powers.

The amendments to the Organic Law of the Courts (法院組織法) allow a new special taskforce to investigate or indict the president, the vice president and the five presidents of the Executive Yuan, the Legislative Yuan, the Control Yuan, the Examination Yuan and the Judicial Yuan as well as members of Cabinet. It is also charged with probing serious financial crimes.

The amendments also stipulate that nominations for prosecutor-general, previously authorized by the president, must be confirmed by the legislature. Prosecutors-general will serve a four-year term.

The taskforce will be established under the Supreme Court Prosecutors' Office, which will consist of at least six but no more than 15 senior prosecutors.

The formation of a more independent prosecutorial system is expected to deeply influence the nation's judicial processes.

Chang Hsueh-ming (張學明), a prosecutor at the Kaohsiung bureau of the Taiwan High Court Prosecutors' Office, told the Taipei Times that recent years had seen an erosion of public trust in the activities of prosecutors.

"The probes into the most serious corruption cases of recent years were allegedly influenced by politics and resulted in controversy," he said. "The uproar that followed these investigations led to public distrust of the prosecutorial system and calls for reform of the system."

Yu Chih-li (余致力), a director of the local office of Transparency International (TI-Taiwan), said he was pleased to see the law amended because the nation had made little progress on TI-Taiwan's Corruption Perception Index in 10 years due4 to the lack of a powerful prosecutorial system.

However, there are concerns that legislative approval of the top prosecutor might lead to the successful nominee or other candidates for the position attempting to influence legislators.

"Closer relationships with legislators and even covering up investigations involving lawmakers might occur under the new system for candidates for the nation's top prosecutor," said Lin Zai-pei (林在培), a prosecutor with the Shilin District Prosecutors' Office.

Unfortunately, Lin added, the nation's lawmakers have a bad record when it comes to graft.

An opinion poll released by TI-Taiwan last month said a majority singled out the legislature as the most corrupt agency in the country.

Additionally, there are concerns that abuses will occur now that the prosecutorial system is growing more powerful.

Late in 2004, prosecutor Lee Tzu-chun (李子春) summoned President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) for questioning in relation to the offer of monthly allowances made by a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate in Hualien County to local Aboriginal leaders. The move to question Chen, who was then DPP chairman, was strongly criticized in certain quarters as an abuse of power and Lee was subsequently demoted.

Last year, prosecutor Hsu Wei-yu (徐維嶽), who led a probe into baseball game-fixing, was himself indicted for betting on the games, together with the police officers.

Judicial Reform Foundation executive-general Kao Yung-cheng (高涌誠) said his organization would push for a watchdog body oversee the top prosecutor.

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