Former Presidential Office deputy secretary-general Ma Yung-cheng (馬永成) yesterday continued testifying in former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) trial on allegations Chen embezzled money from the presidential “state affairs” fund.
Having served as the deputy secretary-general at the office between 2000 and 2006, Ma was called as a defense witness and questioned on his involvement in signing and approving expenses that enabled Chen to allegedly embezzle from the fund.
Prosecutors allege that more than NT$27 million (US$788,000) was withdrawn from the fund using “inappropriate receipts” to claim reimbursements. Chen and his wife, Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍), have denied that any of the money was used for the former first family’s personal expenses.
Throughout the questioning, Ma repeatedly said that a person in his position as presidential aide should not have the authority to sign reimbursement slips or approve the president’s use of the “state affairs” fund.
After 2002, changes in accounting regulations affected the way expenses from the fund could be reimbursed, resulting in less flexibility in using the fund, Ma said.
“The [former] president hoped to change this, but the Ministry of Audit, for some reason, told us that we couldn’t go back to the way it had been done before,” Ma said.
He said that as a way around these new rules, he told Chen that the office would make a list of staff members who were to receive cash awards, then use the list to file applications to gain reimbursements from the “state affairs” fund.
He said the former president’s bookkeeper, Chen Chen-hui (陳鎮慧), and many of the other accountants knew about this. They had to use such methods to gain reimbursements because of “imperfections in the system” and “incomplete laws,” Ma said.
When asked by Presiding Judge Tsai Shou-hsun (蔡守訓) whether the former president knew about the reward list, Ma said: “[Chen Shui-bian] never saw the list and didn’t know of its contents. I only told him I would use this method to deal with the problem [of not being able to transfer between funds].”
“Many co-workers felt it strange that during the Chinese Nationalist Party’s [KMT] administration, they were able to get so much money through reimbursements over so many years and never encountered any problems. No one challenged or questioned them,” Ma said.
“But two years after the Democratic Progressive Party [DPP] took over, we could no longer use the same methods as the previous administration,” he said.
About two hours into the questioning, Ma’s lawyer, Richard Lee (李勝琛), stood up from where he had been listening to the court proceedings and said to Tsai: “I really don’t understand, are you questioning him as a witness or a defendant?”
An angry Tsai warned Lee that if he interrupted the trial again, he would be asked to leave the courtroom.