District court judges yesterday rejected a request by the defendants' lawyers to summon President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to a hearing of the "special state affairs fund" case.
"We decided that to summon the president would not be necessary because the evidence and statements from defendants are quite clear," said Tsai Shou-hsun (蔡守訓), presiding judge in the case.
First lady Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍), former Presidential Office deputy secretary-general Ma Yung-cheng (馬永成), his successor Lin Teh-hsun (林德訓) and former Presidential Office treasurer Chen Cheng-hui (陳鎮慧) were indicted by prosecutors on charges of corruption and forgery for allegedly embezzling NT$14.8 million (US$449,600) from the "special state affairs fund."
Chen avoided indictment because of his presidential immunity.
Lawyers defending Ma and Lin asked the judges to summon the president during the previous hearing on July 27 to facilitate investigations and ensure a fair trial.
Ma and Lin face accusations of forgery involving funds set aside for the president's discretionary use.
"The president is the principal figure in the case, as Ma and Lin did not act of their own free will while carrying out requests from the president. We need the president to clarify things like that," said Lee Sheng-chen (李勝琛), Ma's defense counsel. "He [the president] is in a position to provide clarification on certain conflicting points in the case. I think what the judges have done is not quite fair to us."
Tsai began the first hearing of the case last December. Wu, as a defendant, attended the first hearing on Dec. 16 and has been on sick leave ever since.
On June 15, the Council of Grand Justices confirmed the president's constitutional right to decide what constitutes a state secret and his right to refuse disclosure.
The Council of Grand Justices ruled that the president enjoys immunity from criminal investigation and cannot be questioned by prosecutors during his tenure.
The council's unanimous decision was made at Chen's request, who refused to produce documents during the trial of his wife for alleged corruption at the Taipei District Court, claiming that doing so would undermine national security.
The council said the president, within the authority conferred upon him by the Constitution and its additional articles, has the right to keep secret classified information on national security, defense and diplomacy if he thinks that their disclosure would compromise national security and interests.
This privilege includes the right to refuse to give testimony and to produce evidence for that purpose in court.
This privilege will not exempt Chen from serving as a witness in the criminal trials of others, although he can be questioned only at places of his choosing, the council said.