Presidential Pardons Must Not Become Bargaining Chips
China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 13, 2008
The DPP legislative caucus proposes amending the Accounting Law. It wants to use political sleight of hand to spare Chen Shui-bian and his wife from prosecution for the State Confidential Expenses case, by obliterating the distinction between that case and the Government Heads Special Expenses cases. In order to goad KMT legislators into supporting their proposal, the Green camp has demanded passage of the bill within the week. President Chen Shui-bian would then pardon Ma Ying-jeou's secretary Yu Wen before Chen leaves office. When the proposal provoked too much controversy, the Green camp stipulated there would be no preconditions to Chen's pardon for Yu Wen.
Whether some high-ranking DPP official or Chen Shui-bian himself cooked up this illegal and sleazy political quid pro quo, is of secondary importance. What's important is it reveals Chen Shui-bian's anxiety about the inevitable legal consequences once he leaves office.
The State Confidential Expenses case and the Government Heads Special Expenses case are not the same thing. The Special Expenses case involves two points. According to the evidence, Yu Wen harbored no criminal intent when he used false invoices to request reimbursement. There is no disagreement on this point. The only part that is unclear is the part that requires receipts. But according to the letter of the law, everyone is guilty. This is the part that is controversial and does not accord with the rule of law. This is the part of the Government Head Special Expenses issue that requires an amendment. The law should be amended to stipulate that Special Expenses paid to government heads, depending on their duties, require receipts for the estimated expenditure limit. According to the criminal code, once the new law is enacted, it will apply. Naturally such cases will no longer be prosecuted. As to false invoices, the part concerning forged documents was quite clear. Where is the need for a pardon? Are the State Confidential Expenses case and the Special Expenses case really the same? Can they really be equated? Using false invoices to requisition State Confidential Expenses is a criminal offense. Invoking the Special Expenses case to absolve State Confidential Expenses case violators is totally unwarranted.
The motives for the proposed political deal were suspect. If the intention was to amend the law so that a single standard would prevail, then according to existing laws Yu Wen's sentence could no longer be imposed. In which case, why would he need a Presidential Pardon?
This is not all we are concerned about. Yu Wen's offense was forgery. He used a small number of large fake invoices, instead of a large number of small invoices. He did it for administrative expedience. He was not guilty of graft. But the court ruled that he was guilty of forging official documents, therefore he was not entirely innocent. Yu Wen's one year sentence elicited public sympathy. . But that was due to the severity of the sentence. Particularly compared to the "Princes of the DPP," who were treated with kid gloves and who got off scot-free. Public outrage is understandable. Had Yu Wen insisted he was totally innocent, public support for his pardon would have been less passionate. No matter who is president, a commuted sentence or partial pardon for Yu Wen would be understandable. But if one pronounces him not guilty and grants him a presidential pardon, then controversy will be unavoidable.
Above all, the president may not pardon himself. President Chen Shui-bian does have the right to pardon Yu Wen. But absolutely no right to pardon himself. But what difference is there between pardoning himself, and using Yu Wen as a bargaining chip in exchange for a Legislative Yuan amendment that absolves Chen of responsibility for crimes committed? If such a scheme succeeds. then Ma Ying-jeou, who is about to take office, and anyone who follows, will be the biggest beneficiaries. They will be immune from prosecution for major crimes commited while in office. Then on the eve of their departure, they can either pardon themselves or make a political deal and get off scot-free. Anyone who becomes president will be above the law and get away with anything.
Why did someone as smart as Nixon not pardon himself, but instead wait for his successor President Ford to pardon him? How unfortunate, or perhaps fortunate, Taiwan is, not to have its counterpart to Nixon, a politician who knowing he could no longer cover up his crimes, stepped down and thereby received a pardon.
If President Chen Shui-bian is motivated exclusively by legitimate concerns about his presidential powers, rather than selfish motives, he should pardon Yu Wen. Although Yu Wen may be guilty, he deserves compassion. He does not deserve a one year in prison.
Chen can remedy an injustice before he steps down. He can even win public applause and leave a positive final impression. We don't know who proposed this sleazy political quid pro quo. We only know that it was a counterproductive move that left the impression President Chen was eager to reap a private benefit at public expense.
The President enjoys the right to pardon individuals because he is the head of state. The proposal that Chen be let off the hook in exchange for pardoning Yu Wen not only turned Yu Wen into a bargaining chip, it also diminished the stature of the president. Now the fear is that Yu Wen, who had a chance of being pardoned on the merits of his case, will lose that chance as a result of this abortive political deal.