Mon, Nov 06, 2006 - Page 3 News List

Presidential Office in crisis: Prosecutor presents details of case against first lady

By Rich Chang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Prosecutor Eric Chen (陳瑞仁) said that he was able to link a number of items listed on receipts submitted to the Presidential Office for reimbursement through the "state affairs fund" to the first lady, casting doubt on explanations that the receipts were the result of "secret diplomatic work."

On Friday, prosecutors indicted first lady Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍) on corruption and forgery charges in connection with the handling of the "state affairs fund," a discretionary budget with little oversight. President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) is also suspected of graft and forgery, but cannot be charged until the end of his term because of presidential immunity.

Eric Chen detailed the evidence he had collected when explaining the indictment in a press conference on Friday, emphasizing the reasons why he could not accept the "secret diplomatic mission" explanation offered by the president, Wu and other suspects.

Eric Chen said prosecutors discovered that a total of 29 receipts used to claim reimbursements from the "state affairs fund" were actually received by Wu when she bought jewelry, clothing, shoes, sunglasses and other items worth a total of NT$1,490,000 (US$45,288).

He added that he investigated a number of shops where Wu had bought goods, and that he had statements from the stores' clerks.

The prosecutor said clerks had told him that Wu had tried on the clothing before she bought it, and that he had proved that the clothing bought matched Wu's size.

"I also learned that a diamond ring that Wu bought matches her finger size," Eric Chen told the press on Friday.

The prosecutor said he interviewed the president for the second time on Oct. 27, and asked him to explain how the receipts had been submitted for reimbursement from the "state affairs fund." The president admitted that while some of the receipts were from gifts he had bought for his wife, others were from gifts for foreign guests and friends' weddings.

Eric Chen, however, said "Chen [Shui-bian] and Wu failed to identify who received the gifts and make it possible for prosecutors to interview them."

Additionally, Eric Chen said that, Wu's friend Lee Bi-chun (李碧君) is believed to have offered a number of receipts, worth NT$5,420,000, to the first family in order to get the cash reimbursements. The president, Wu and the other suspects initially said that those receipts were not from Lee, but from "Person A," who they said lived abroad and had been conducting secret diplomatic work for the country. The suspects said it was "Person A" who had submitted the receipts in Taipei and took the money, prosecutors said.

But Eric Chen said he found that the times when the receipts had been issued and turned in to the Presidential Office were times that "Person A" was abroad, so it was impossible for "Person A" to have submitted the receipts.

Meanwhile, regarding complaints from president and Wu that Eric Chen did not give them enough of a chance to explain the matter, the prosecutor on Friday said he had interviewed the first lady on Aug. 20 and decided to interview her again in the middle of October.

However, he said that Wu, through the Presidential Office, had declined to attend another prosecutors' interview citing health reasons.

Eric Chen also attempted, and failed to interview Wu when he completed an interview of the president at the Presidential Residence on Oct. 27.

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