The case of Jacqueline Liu (劉姍姍), a senior Taiwanese representative in the US who pleaded guilty to charges of violating a US federal labor law through maltreatment of her two Philippine housekeepers, has been held in abeyance pending a federal court ruling on a plea agreement she signed in her individual capacity.
Behind the strategy lies the belief that the diplomat may have deprived herself of her diplomatic status and sought a plea bargain to play down the controversy and avoid dragging the case in front of a grand jury and the public.
Although this could probably settle her case earlier, several problematic issues at the national level highlighted by the case remain unanswered, analysts are saying.
Liu, director-general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in Kansas City, Missouri, pleaded guilty to the felony on Nov. 18, agreeing to pay US$80,044 in restitution to two Philippine housekeepers for the hours they worked.
Under the deal, Liu would also be on probation and would be deported from the US.
Her arrest by the FBI on Nov. 10, soon followed by an FBI affidavit based on testimonies given by three TECO officials in support of the bureau’s criminal complaint against Liu, sent shockwaves through the government, which had been unaware of the problem until Liu’s arrest.
Liu has been kept in custody since then.
In the opening days of the controversy, the government lodged a stern protest against the US for what it called Washington’s failure to accord a Taiwanese diplomat due respect and to follow due process during its investigation into the case, demanding the “immediate and unconditional” release of Liu, whom it said enjoyed diplomatic immunity.
After Liu’s lawyer, James Wirken, weighed in on Nov. 16, the case was then characterized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) as a personal incident, in a bid to secure Liu’s prompt release while compartmentalizing the immunity issue.
The shift in approach — which came after the government failed to bring the US around to its point of view that Liu was eligible for diplomatic immunity — won the approval of a former minister of foreign affairs, Chen Chien-jen (程建人).
Given that the disagreement between the US and Taiwan as to whether immunity should apply remains unresolved, the plea bargain was a solution that has taken into account concerns about human rights and the dignity of the nation, Chen said.
“It’s like walking and chewing gum at the same time,” he said.
“If accepted, the plea deal would be a solution that everyone can live with — Liu admitted her guilt in the US and will receive her punishment in Taiwan. The two sides are still at odds over immunity, but it’s better to just leave it at that. That way, it leaves room for each side to interpret the issue of immunity for Liu in its own way,” Chen added.
Before it shifted its approach, the government held the view that Liu was entitled to the same type of immunity the US grants to foreign diplomatic corps, despite the absence of official diplomatic relations with Taiwan since 1979.
The government based its stance partly on the US’ Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) of 1979, which provides for Taiwan to be treated under US law in the same way as foreign countries, nations, states, governments or similar entities, and partly on the US-Taiwan Agreement on Privileges, Exemptions and Immunities signed in 1980.