Tue, Apr 24, 2007 - Page 2 News List

Justice ministry unsure on definition of Ma's fund

NOT CERTAIN Lawmakers blasted officials for their conflicting interpretation of whether the funds should be classified as public or private money

By Rich Chang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Justice ministry officials yesterday were left with egg on their faces after admitting they did not know whether the special mayoral fund former Taipei mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was accused of embezzling should be classified as public or private.

Ma, who had to resign as chairman of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) after being indicted on corruption charges, admitted during his ongoing trial that he had taken the special allowance funds given to public officials, including during his eight-year tenure as Taipei mayor, because he regarded the money as private and part of his income as a government official.

KMT Legislator Lee Ching-hua (李慶華) asked Minister of Justice Morley Shih (施茂林) during a Judiciary Committee meeting at the legislature yesterday whether "high-level government officials' special funds are public funds or private funds."

"It depends," Shih said. "The ministry does not have a definite answer to that."

Lee then showed a justice ministry press statement issued last Thursday, which said that "the ministry regards the special funds as public funds."

Embarrassed, Vice Minister of Justice Chu Nan (朱楠) told the lawmakers that he was in charge of the press statement and the "public funds" words were an error and did not represent the ministry's position on the issue.

Faced with criticism for the justice ministry's ambiguous position, Chu said he would ask the ministry to discipline him for the flawed press statement and its consequences.

Shih added that state public prosecutor-general Chen Tsung-ming (陳聰明) would convene a meeting of high-level prosecutors to form a legal position on special funds.

The justice ministry issued a statement last November saying public officials' special funds should be treated as a "substantial subsidy" -- essentially as income -- and prosecutors should take a lenient approach toward their investigations into the abuse of special allowance funds.

But Taipei prosecutors in February still indicted Ma on charges of embezzling NT$11 million (US$333,000) during his term as mayor.

Top prosecutor Chen Tsung-ming and his special investigation team have also been investigating alleged misuse of discretionary special allowance funds by several prominent Democratic Progressive Party public figures.

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