Public officials who cannot account for their money and assets could face criminal charges if a new measure backed by the Executive Yuan becomes law.
The Cabinet will send to the legislature for deliberation by Sept. 18 an amendment to the criminal code that would presume vast wealth from unknown sources held by public officials to be the proceeds of corruption, Minister without Portfolio Kao Su-po (高思博) said yesterday.
“Despite some controversy surrounding [the regulation], that is the direction we are heading in,” Kao said in a telephone interview yesterday.
Kao said he would convene meetings to discuss the amendment to the Statute for the Punishment of Corruption (貪污治罪條例) this week at the earliest.
At a public hearing organized by the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) Central Policy Committee in the legislature yesterday, Deputy Minister of Justice Huang Shih-ming (黃世銘) presented an outline of the amendment, while refusing to go into further details.
According to the amendment, public officials would be guilty of committing a crime if they fail to give a clear account of the sources of their wealth as required.
The ministry argued that failure to explain the origins of assets would lead to presumption of corruption, under which the property could be seized or confiscated, while the officials could be asked to make repayments or pay compensation.
“We have been studying the issue and found it isn’t a violation of human rights. Such regulations have been previously adopted in the UN, the UK, Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia. Transparency International also praised such rules,” Huang said.
The issue has aroused human rights concerns as the presumption of guilt goes against the presumption of innocence — an established principle in modern jurisprudence — as well as the defendant’s right to silence, and the principle that the burden of proof is on prosecutors.
Attendants at the hearing, from other government agencies, the judiciary and academia, however, spoke with one voice on the issue, considering the amendment a necessity if the country is to strengthen the fight against corruption and promote clean government.
“Although the presumption of innocence is a universal principle, it can’t be used as an amulet for public officials to cover up corruption,” Huang said.
The issue was discussed before in late 2006 during the last legislature, but stalled at the preliminary stage, and was put back on the table recently in the wake of the alleged money laundering case involving former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and his family.
The KMT also proposed an amendment to the statute suggesting that spouses and close relatives of public officials should be regarded as “accomplices to the crime.”
The KMT version said public officials failing to explain their vast wealth should be given a three-year sentence or a fine of NT$10 million (US$317,000), as well as having the assets confiscated.
Passing the amendment would complement the existing Statute for the Punishment of Corruption, the Money Laundering Control Act (洗錢防制法) and the Act on Property-Declaration by Public Servants (公職人員財產申報法), KMT Legislator Chang Sho-wen (張碩文) said.
In related news, former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) office yesterday expressed regret over a Chinese-language China Times report that alleged he had wired part of his “state affairs fund” overseas to be laundered.