A former major general and chief of staff of the army’s Hualien-Taitung Defense Command allegedly misappropriated about NT$6,000 from a fund intended to pay bonuses to soldiers participating in the annual Han Kuang military exercises, using the money to pay for a dinner for civilians, media reports said.
The Hualien branch of the Taiwan High Court sentenced the major general, surnamed Han (韓), to four years and six months in prison for corruption.
However, a review of the reports related to the case show that it is not so straightforward and involves a long-standing defect in the military.
The court’s judgement states that in July 2015, a lieutenant general surnamed Liu (劉), who was then a commanding officer, heard that family members of the political warfare director were coming to visit Hualien.
To honor them as guests in his capacity as a senior officer, he arranged a welcome banquet at a seafood restaurant in Hualien City, and invited Han to join them.
At the end of the evening, Han was left responsible for the bill.
Han denied embezzling funds and insisted that the charges were unfair.
“I was instructed by the commanding officer to pay for the meal out of the bonus payment fund,” he told the court. “The banquet was arranged by the commander’s office, and I was one of those invited. Before the meal, I did not know that the political warfare director’s relatives would attend.”
Having served in the armed forces for 10 years and having been in charge of a budget at the headquarters’ level, I remember similar events that occurred 30 years ago.
The recording of various items as “miscellaneous expenses,” such as wedding and funeral gifts, has long been common practice in the armed forces. Just as with state affairs expenses and special allowances used by government leaders, and the assistants’ fees that are payable to legislators and councilors, these expenditures can be processed and written off.
This is a “historical reality” of which Taiwanese are well aware. This practice remains deeply rooted and has not been eliminated regardless of which political party is in government.
Another reason a commanding officer would host a banquet for a subordinate and their family members, and invite a major general and chief of staff to join them, is that the major general would be left to “foot the bill.”
This tacit understanding that ranking officers can take advantage of their subordinates has been passed down from one generation to the next.
For a paltry sum of NT$6,000 that the lieutenant general surely could have paid himself, a major general chief of staff ends up in court, not to mention that an aide with the rank of sergeant was sentenced to one year in prison, suspended for three years.
It really is shameful for the nation’s armed forces. The entire meal and payment took place under the nose of the lieutenant general, but the High Court punished the handler — or should we call him the fall guy — while the one pulling the strings got off scot-free.
Fang Ping-sheng is a retired Republic of China Marine Corps major.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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