Chen Chih-Chung and Huang Jui-Ching's Plea Bargain
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
January 23, 2009
Chen Chih-chung and Huang Jui-ching have confessed. As part of a plea bargain, they are willing to reveal the whereabouts of more money, jewelry, and property. They may or may not have been sincere in their expressions of remorse. But legally speaking, their confessions will make it difficult for Chen Shui-bian and Wu Shu-chen to continue maintaining their innocence.
Over the course of the day Chen Chih-chung and Huang Jui-ching pleaded guilty. As soon as they asked for a plea bargain, the presiding judge asked the two whether they had discussed their decision with counsel. Did they understand the meaning and legal ramifications of pleading guilty? The two affirmed that they did. Only then did prosecutors ask the court to consider a plea bargain. They did not set a date for the next session, but revised the wording to read "pending." This much can be confirmed. Chen Chih-chung and Huang Jui-ching have expressed a desire to enter into a plea bargain, in accordance with the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Legally this means the two are no longer disputing the prosecution's claim that they committed crimes.
Prosecutors indicted Chen Chih-chung and his wife for the crime of money-laundering, on the basis of the Money Laundering Control Act. The act states that it is a felony to "cover up, conceal, receive, handle, ship, harbor, fence, or hold the proceeds from felonies for oneself or for others." The Money Laundering Control Act specifies a minimum of five years imprisonment for the crime of corruption. To charge someone with money laundering, the money laundered must be criminal proceeds. To confess to money laundering means to confess that one knew the money laundered was the result of criminal activity. The two are inseparable. A suspect who says "I confess I laundered money, but didn't know the sums of money I laundered were criminal proceeds," has not in fact confessed. And if one has not confessed, one cannot enter into a plea bargain. Some say Chen Chih-chung and his wife should split the difference wtih prosecutors, that they should claim "We didn't know the sums of money we laundered were criminal proceeds." This is both self-contradictory and inconsistent with the law.
As mentioned earlier, the plea bargaining process is predicated upon not challenging the indictment. The problem is prosecutors are also investigating other incidents of Chen family corruption. Chen Chih-chung has revealed money trails for cases not listed in the indictment against him. Suppose the two reach a plea bargain with prosecutors and settle on a sentence, only to have more cases of money-laundering surface? How will the matter be handled? It will be handled according to the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Law. Assuming the case has yet to reach the sentencing stage, if the court finds discrepancies between the plea bargain and the facts of the case, the plea bargain shall be considered null and void. The case will be retried, and the sentence reevaluated.
Therefore, the prosecution need not rush to reach an agreement with the defendants. Instead, it should pick up the pace of its investigation. Chen Chih-chung and his wife should think clearly, They had better not cough up some of their loot while concealing the rest of it, thinking they can enjoy their ill-gotten gains after serving only a light sentence. Harboring such notions can only undermine their goal of seeking light sentences by means of plea bargaining.
Prosecutors indicted Chen Chih-chung and his wife for violating the Money Laundering Control Act. This means the two knew they were covering up, concealing, receiving, handling, and holding the proceeds from criminal activities. That being the case, whom did the two think the illegal proceeds belonged to? In this case of course it was Ah-Bian and Ah-Cheng, their co-defendants. Therefore when Chen Chih-chung and Huang Jui-ching pleaded guilty, that meant the Court was aware of Ah-Bian and Ah-Cheng's crimes. Under the circumstances, it is going to be even harder for Ah-Bian and Ah-Cheng to deny that they committed crimes. Even his own daughter-in-law has confessed to having and holding vast sums of criminal proceeds, to participating in money-laundering activities, and even to personally traveling overseas to direct such activities. Ah-Bian and Ah-Cheng will have a hard time convincing any judge the money was merely "campaign contributions," and a hard time evading prosecution.
Chen Chih-chung and Huang Jui-ching's plea bargain has put Chen Shui-bian and Wu Shu-chen in a difficult position. Ah-Bian and Ah-Cheng are charged with felonies. According to the law, suspects charged with felonies cannot request a plea bargain. The most they can do is throw themselves on the mercy of the court and hope for lighter sentences. But Ah-Bian and Ah-Cheng committed too many crimes, and the charges against them are too serious. No matter how lightly they are punished, prison terms are unavoidable. If they stubbornly maintain their innocence, Chen Chih-chung and Huang Jui-ching's confessions have already shattered the family's united front, making it difficult to explain away the contradictions in their stories. Public perception will be even more negative. The consequences will be even more serious.
The Chen family corruption case has shown the public that as long as prosecutors investigate in earnest, and acquire a clear picture of the case, no matter how devious the criminals might be, they will eventually succumb to the evidence. Therefore, the cornerstone of justice is the prosecutor. We look forward to prosecutors on Taiwan undergoing a metamorphosis in the wake of the Chen family corruption case.
2009.01.23 02:32 am