Will the Ministry of Justice Conduct a Real Investigation? The World is Watching.
China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
June 2, 2008
The number and magnitude of controversies the Attorney General is embroiled boggles the mind. Public Prosecutor Eric Chen has been assigned to prosecute the State Confidential Expenses Case. Chen said, "The Attorney General should create a police cordon around local prosecutors, shielding them from all political pressure." Eric Chen made this statement early last year. Attorney-General Chen Tsung-ming's "banquet scandals" had just made headlines at the time. First Chen Tsung-ming attended a post New Year's party at the home of former President Chen Shui-bian's personal physician, Huang Fang-yen. Then he attended a dinner party at Legislative Yuan Speaker Wang Jin-pyng's house.
One year later, Chen Tsung-ming is again in the spotlight. This time, the problem is far more serious. This time the problem is not merely the appearance of impropriety. The Kaohsiung Public Prosecutor's Office is in charge of prosecuting the Thai workers exploitation case. In the second instance it indicted Public Prosecutor Tsai Kuo-jen. It introduced evidence in court showing that even though during the first instance Chen Tsung-ming lacked evidence, he nevertheless ordered prosecutor Wang Bang-an to indict some people merely to appease public anger. The word handed down was "Attorney-General Chen Tsung-ming wants this taken care of." Tsai Kuo-jen presented evidence suggesting that "the Kaohsiung Public Prosecutor's Office engaged in selective prosecution in the Kaohsiung Mass Rapid Transit scandal." During his prosecution of the Thai workers exploitation scandal, Tsai said that the four lower echelon civil servants indicted had neither the intent nor the authority to profit from the case. "Unless of course their superiors shut their eyes and rubber-stamped the documents. If we are serious about prosecuting this case, the person we should be prosecuting is Chen Chu," he said.
Tsai Kuo-jen's remarks touched off a bombshell and led to widespread speculation. First, Tsai Kuo-jen made his accusations publicly, in court. He did not "drop the dime" on others anonymously. During his deposition he even demanded that the court reporter take down his testimony verbatim. He was mentally prepared, knowing his words and deeds would provoke major turmoil. Second, as we all know, the Kaohsiung Mass Rapid Transit scandal has many facets. The Thai worker riots case and the Thai workers exploitation scandal are merely two of them. While comparing the riot to the scandal, Tsai said that the four lower echelon civil servants were scapegoats, victims of selective prosecution. Third, even more importantly, Tsai said, without the slightest hesitation, "If we are serious about prosecuting this case, the person we should be prosecuting is Chen Chu." Everything is linked. Tsai Kuo-jen's remarks touched off a storm of controversy. Not only did Chen Tsung-ming order prosecutors to mollify the public by throwing four fall guys to the wolves. More to the point, what was the purpose of these sacrificial offerings? Who was being protected by these sacrificial offerings? Chen Tsung-ming? Or people behind Chen Tsung-ming even higher up the ladder? Let's not forget that when the Thai workers exploitation scandal first broke, Chen Chu lamented that "powerful people" were behind the scandal. Unfortunately, during the Kaohsiung Public Prosecutor's course of investigation, no one had the courage or ambition to reveal who these "powerful people" were. The rest is irrelevant.
Chen Tsung-ming said that according to his recollection it was already late in the game when he took over the Kaohsiung Mass Rapid Transit case. But Chen Tsung-ming was Chief Prosecutor of the Kaohsiung Public Prosecutor's Office at the time. Whistleblowers had already come forth on the Kaohsiung Mass Rapid Transit scandal and other scandals, long before they made headlines. The Kaohsiung Public Prosecutor's Office had already swept these cases under the rug. Had it not been for the Thai worker riots, the Kaohsiung Mass Rapid Transit scandal would have remained a rock dropped into the ocean. Nor was the Kaohsiung Mass Rapid Transit scandal not an isolated case. A string of such scandals took place in Kaohsiung. Have we forgotten Lo Chien-hsun, who was transferred to the Internal Affairs Department of the Coast Guard Administration? Before leaving the Kaohsiung Public Prosecutor's Office, he turned his case files over to the Special Investigative Unit. He specifically underscored former Kaohsiung Mayor Frank Hsieh's involvement in the scandals. The Democratic Progressive Party was holding its presidential primaries at the time. Tsai's expose created quite a stir. In the end however, it turned out to be yet another case of "Plenty of thunder but little rain." We still don't know whether the Special Investigative Unit has any intention of proceeding with the case.
When Tsai Kuo-jen touched off his bombshell, Chen Tsung-ming responded by indicting four scapegoats. Tsai refused to speak again. Chen Tsung-ming on the other hand, was suddenly in a panic, and wanted Wang Bang-an report to him, to declare that he never issued any such orders to Tsai Kuo-jen. Is Chen Tsung-ming serious? How many lower echelon prosecutors have the guts to submit a report to the Attorney General, saying "Yes, you were the one who phoned me, ordering me to indict so and so?" Because of this case, Wang Ching-feng, the new Minister of Justice, found herself under enormous pressure during her first interpolation by the Legislative Yuan. She was saddened that this case had utterly discredited public prosecutors in the eyes of the public. She immediately ordered the formation of an ad hoc group to investigate and produce a report within two weeks, no punches pulled.
Only last year, in response to Chen Tsung-ming's banquets scandal, the Ministry of Justice made a big show of "investigating." Many have forgotten that at the time Huang Fang-yen said he and Chen Tsung-ming were quite familiar with each other. Chen Tsung-ming on the other hand said he and Huang Fang-yen were not at all familiar with each other. Did anyone bother to ask why Chen Tsung-ming would attend a post New Years party at the home of someone with whom he was not at all familiar? His dinner party with Wang Jin-pyng was even more revealing. Among the guests were business community "witnesses" to the State Security Expense Accounts scandals. So were five other public prosecutors. So were several independent legislators who were entangled in lawsuits. Eric Chen said "Even assuming you did not know in advance that these people would be present, as soon as you walked in the door and saw them you should have had the determination and courage to turn around and walk out!" The Prosecutorial Reform Commission said that if it were to happen again, it would not rule out defying Chen Tsung-ming's orders and promoting mechanisms for the Attorney-General's withdrawal. Because prosecutors have been unable to legally specify that prosecutors may not wine and dine individuals involved in their cases, this case will probably go nowhere.
Tsai Kuo-jen dropped a bombshell when he accused Chen Tsung-ming of engaging in selective prosecutions. Should this be considered a case of "Here we go again?" Will the Ministry of Justice report, like past reports, evade real problems by fixating on trivialities? Will it engage in cover ups? Wang Ching-feng is watching. The entire nation is watching. They see public prosecutors who lack the determination and courage to turn around and walk away from corrupt officials and businessmen. Just how many public prosecutors retain their spirit of independence? Just how many public prosecutors have the guts to "Just say no!" to special interests?