President-elect Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) will be cautious in exercising his right to grant a general amnesty to any government officials convicted of misusing their special allowance funds after the Supreme Court on Thursday found him not guilty of embezzling from his mayoral special allowance, spokesman Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強) said yesterday.
The pardon would impinge on the authority of the judicial system and set a precedent for similar cases in the future, Lo said. Ma will therefore not grant such a pardon without careful consideration, he said.
The Supreme Court upheld the Taiwan High Court’s not guilty verdict for Ma on Thursday and rejected charges that he misused his special allowance during his eight-year tenure as Taipei mayor.
The final verdict in Ma’s case could hold implications for similar cases against other government officials, including President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) and former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman Yu Shyi-kun.
The ruling quickly sparked a debate about whether any government officials convicted for pocketing their special allowances should be pardoned.
The special allowances, which are granted to more than 6,500 government officials as salary subsidies, lie in a gray area between public and private funds, as regulations governing their use are ambiguous.
Ma’s lawyer Song Yao-ming (宋耀明) said yesterday that Ma had not asked him to look into the possibility of granting pardons after his inauguration.
Lu yesterday called for fairness in investigations and prosecutions of special allowance cases following Ma’s acquittal.
Lu, who was indicted last September on charges of misusing her special allowance fund when she was Taoyuan County commissioner, is now standing trial on corruption and forgery charges.
“What is ridiculous is that the judiciary has selectively indicted only DPP [officials],” Lu said.
Presidential Office Secretary-General Mark Chen (陳唐山) and former DPP chairman Yu Shyi-kun were also indicted on charges of misusing their special allowance funds.
First lady Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍) was indicted for forgery and corruption over the presidential office’s state affairs fund, budgeted for the president’s discretionary use. The regulations for the presidential fund have also been criticized as ambiguous.
Prosecutors said in the indictment that Chen Shui-bian, who enjoys immunity from prosecution during his presidential term, would be indicted after he leaves office.
“There are so many special allowances cases in the country. Why were we three, plus President Chen, indicted?” Lu asked.
“Could it be that prosecutors planned to drop the cases against [Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) officials]?” she said.
“I also expected that Ma would clear his name. Now that Ma has been found not guilty in his final trial, all other cases should be dealt with using the same criteria,” Lu said.
Lu made the remarks after being approached for comment.
Asked whether she thought Ma should grant amnesties if anyone is convicted of misusing the special funds, Lu said: “Ma should know what to do.”
Yu, who has already appeared in court for his special allowance case, refused to comment on the possibility of an amnesty.
In related news, former Presidential Office secretary-general Chen Shih-meng (陳師孟) said yesterday that President Chen should not accept an amnesty if he is indicted and found guilty and Ma pardons him.
“The judiciary has been tainted by politics. If Ma were to grant an amnesty, it would be nothing but a political gesture. If President Chen accepted that, it would damage the DPP and the president himself,” Chen Shih-meng said.
Asked for comment, Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) proposed amending the Accounting Act (會計法) to put an end to the ambiguity surrounding the special allowance fund.
Wang said the judicial system could be paralyzed if the Ministry of Justice attempted to investigate all former and current government officials over their use of special allowance funds.
“We can amend the law to resolve this historical glitch once and for all ... In other words, we can amend the law to shield [government chiefs] from any criminal punishment and introduce new regulations [on how the funds should be used in future],” he said.
Wang said that although both the pan-blue and pan-green camps had not reached any consensus regarding amendments to the Accounting Act, they had agreed to the need to amend the law.
When asked for comment, Chinese Nationalist Party Legislator Chiu Yi (邱毅) said he strongly opposed granting an amnesty across the board.
“Why should Chen Shui-bian, Wu Shu-jen, Annette Lu, Mark Chen and Yu Shyi-kun, all of whom enjoy privileges, receive an amnesty?” he asked. “I am strongly against the amnesty proposal. If [Ma] grants them amnesty, I’ll flip.”
The DPP legislative caucus yesterday said that its members would support Wang’s proposal.
“That’s a great idea. With such a law in black and white, government heads who receive special allowance funds would have some rules to follow,” DPP legislative caucus deputy whip Pan Meng-an (潘孟安) told a press conference yesterday morning.
Pan was referring to a conversation between State Public Prosecutor-General Chen Tsung-ming (陳聰明) and Wang, during which Wang suggested amending the law and Chen Tsung-ming recommended a new law with clear regulations.
Chen Tsung-ming talked to Wang after Ma’s not-guilty verdict was announced.
Pan said Ma’s case was controversial because there was nothing to confirm to the public that Ma was innocent.
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