Wed, Nov 08, 2006 - Page 3 News List

Presidential Office in crisis: Wu's trial could drag on: experts

By Rich Chang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Law experts yesterday said that first lady Wu Shu-jen's (吳淑珍) trial for corruption and forgery could last more than a year because of the case's complexity.

As a result, such a lengthy trial may help President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) stay in office and complete his term, which is due to end in May 2008.

Chen on Sunday night told the nation in a televised speech that he would step down if his wife were found guilty of corruption.

"The court will speed up the schedule for the hearing as the court bears the responsibility to give the public a conclusion as soon as possible," Taipei District Court spokesman Liu Shou-sung (劉壽嵩) told the press yesterday.

But there is no timetable for the trial as yet, he added.

Taipei lawyer Wang Tzu-wen (王子文) told the Taipei Times yesterday that the court might expect to complete the trial within six months, but tactics used by defendants and their lawyers might be able to delay the hearing.

He said that according to Prosecutor Eric Chen's (陳瑞仁) indictment, prosecutors had interviewed a total of 276 witnesses in connection with the investigation.

If any defendant in the case denies any statement they made to prosecutors, then judges must ask the witnesses to attend the hearing and cross-examine them on the content of their statements and those of other defendants.

Such a procedure would take a "very long time," Wang added.

The defendants could also ask judges to summon other individuals as witnesses, Wang said.

"It would consume a lot of time if, say, some of them live abroad and it is hard to arrange for them to attend the hearing," Wang said.

Wang said that according to the Criminal Procedure Code (刑事訴訟法), a hearing cannot proceed if the defendant in a case does not attend the hearing.

In Wu's case, he said, even if the judges decide to arrange a condensed hearing schedule, say, four or five times a week, the first lady, considering the poor condition of her health, might not be able to manage it.

If Wu were to request recesses, then the hearing would be prolonged, Wang said.

Shilin District Prosecutor Lin Zai-pei (林在培) said he believed that Chen, Wu and their lawyers would like to see the lawsuit drag on.

Taiwan's judicial system has often been criticized over the length of time lawsuits take to come to a conclusion.

In February 2003, former Taipei City Councilor and Democratic Progressive Party member David Chou (周伯倫) was sentenced to six years in prison -- some 15 years after his offense was committed.

And in January 2004, the Taipei District Court found former president of Chung Shing Bank Wang Yu-yun (王玉雲) and a number of defendants guilty for their involvement in the bank's loan scandal eight years after the incident.

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