Chen Shui-bian, How Do You Plead?
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
January 19, 2009
Today, the Taipei District Court will hear the Chen Shui-bian corruption case. First, it will hold a three day long preparatory session. This is the first time a former president has faced justice for corruption-related crimes. Needless to say, it is an event of major significance, and represents an evolutionary step in our constitutional order.
The judges have investigated the people involved. As usual, they will ask the accused Chen Shui-bian: How do you plead? Guilty or not guilty?
If Chen Shui-bian pleads guilty to the prosecutor, he may begin a process of plea bargaining. If he does not plead guilty, the trial will begin, and Chen Shui-bian must offer a defense.
The judge will ask the defendant, "How do you plead? Guilty, or not guilty?" Although it is a mere formality, for the Chen Shui-bian corruption case it of enormous significance. Because whether Chen Shui-bian pleads guilty or not bears on the issue of justice, particularly political justice. If Chen Shui-bian pleads not guilty, even a harsh sentence will not restore political justice.
Judging by Chen Shui-bian's current attitude, he will not plead guilty. But judging by developments so far, he will have a hard time being found not guilty. That is why a few days ago his lawyers said he may wear a surgical mask marked with an "X" over his face as a silent protest, rather than put up a defense.
Chen Shui-bian's main argument in his defense is that the money in his secret accounts were "campaign contributions," and that their purpose was a "nation-building fund." His first priority is to help Chen Chih-chung escape prosecution. His second priority is to help himself avoid responsibility. As a last resort he will transfer all blame onto Wu Shu-chen. The Chen family is counting on the fact that no one has the political courage to demand that Wu Shu-chen serve time in prison.
None of the funds in the Chen family's four corruption scandals can be passed off as "campaign contributions." In the State Affairs Fund scandal, the Chen family used phony receipts to dip into the state treasury. What does this have to do with "campaign contributions?" In the Longtan Land Purchase scandal, Ming-Jer Tsai and Leslie Koo confessed to paying the Chen family "commissions," not campaign contributions. In the Nankang Exhibition Hall scandal, Minister of the Interior Yu Cheng-hsien leaked a list of the review board members. Was the payment for this inside information a "campaign contribution?" In the Chen family's money-laundering case, numerous instances of dirty money flowing into the Chen family's secret coffers have already been identified as "not campaign contributions." Chen Shui-bian wants to cite "campaign contributions" as a means of pleading not guilty in all four cases. But is anyone going to believe him?
Now let's look at the issue of responsibility. In the State Affairs Fund scandal, Ma Yung-cheng, Lin Teh-hsiung, and Chen Cheng-hui have already confessed they carried out orders handed down by President Chen Shui-bian. Otherwise, who would have dared to give the State Affairs Fund balance sheet to Wu Shu-chen to read? Who would have dared to move State Affairs Funds into the Yushan official residence? Chen Shui-bian wants us to believe his subordinates committed these crimes, and are now passing the buck over to him. How does he think the public will react when it hears such arguments in court? In the Longtan Land Purchase scandal Chen Shui-bian argues that the president was not authorized to decide whether to purchase the land. The powers and responsibilities belong to the Executive Yuan. Does that mean that the "commission" Wu Shu-chen pocketed ought to be turned over to Yu Shyi-kun? Does that mean Yu should be the one to go to prison? In the Nankang Exhibition Hall scandal, Chen Shui-bian suggests that the bidding on the exhibition hall was not part of the president's authority, therefore Wu Shu-chen could not have charged a "commission" on that basis. Chen suggests that Yu Cheng-hsien did everything on his own initiative. As for the Chen family money-laundering case, Chen Shui-bian claims he learned about the matter from Ye Sheng-mao in December 2006. How can he possibly shift all blame onto Wu Shu-chen?
In sum, for Chen Shui-bian to offer a not guilty plea is already impossible. If Chen knows it is impossible but attempts to bluff his way through anyway, Chen Shui-bian and Chen Cheng-hui will be at each others' throats throughout the trial. Chen will have to shift all responsibility onto Wu Shu-chen, the crippled mother of his children. Chen will have to shift all responsibility for the Longtan Land Purchase scandal onto Yu Shyi-kun. In the Nankang Exhibition Hall scandal, Wu Shu-chen has framed Yu Cheng-hsien, saying he was a Yes Man who twisted the meaning of her words. Wu Shu-chen and her own brother Wu Ching-mao have become mortal enemies. Former friends Wu Shu-chen and Tsai Ming-Jer have also turned on each other. Such ugly and pathetic scenes will play out in court. No wonder Chen Shui-bian is thinking about wearing a mask. Does he really think he has room to equivocate? Does he really want to preside over this ugly farce, in open court?
Chen Shui-bian has persisted in hiding behind the smokescreen of alleged "campaign contributions." But when these four cases are argued in open court, Chen Shui-bian will have a hard time proving the kickbacks Wu Shu-chen extorted in the State Affairs Fund scandal were "campaign contributions." He will have a hard time proving the kickbacks the Chen family received during the Longtan Site Preparation scandal and the Nankang Exhibition Hall scandal were "campaign contributions." Given the facts of the case, does Chen Shui-bian really intend to enter a plea of not guilty?
Moreover, these four cases are merely appetizers. The entrees are yet to come. The Second Financial Reform scandal, the Diplomacy scandal and other main dishes will soon be served up. Are the funds involved in those scandals also "campaign contributions?" Are they also part of a "nation-building fund?" The more Chen Shui-bian pleads not guilty, the more he exposes his ugly greed.
Chen Shui-bian may as well take off his mask and plead guilty. Otherwise, the public will be treated to the ugly and pathetic spectacle of former masters and dogs tearing into each other in open court.
2009.01.19 02:01 am