Chen Corruption Case: What Conceivable Justification for the Second Instance Ruling?
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
June 13, 2010
The High Court has announced its ruling in the Chen Family Corruption Case. It has found the Chen family guilty as charged in the State Affairs Fund scandal, the Longtan Industrial District scandal, the Nangang Exhibition Hall scandal, and the Diana Chen bribery and money laundering scandals. In his ruling, the trial judge sternly rebuked Ah-Bian, Ah-Cheng, and others for crimes for which they cannot evade reponsibility. But he simultaneously reduced the lengths of their sentences and the amounts of their fines, sharply. This flagrant contradiction between his stern rebuke and his lenient sentence is utterly incomprehensible.
Consider the charges against Chen Shui-bian and Wu Shu-cheng, and the sentences they received. Consider the State Affairs Fund. Before the criminal code was amended in 2006, each subsequent offense called for a sentence 1.5 times as long as the initial offense. The High Court sentenced Ah-Bian and Ah-Cheng each to 14 years imprisonment. After the criminal code was amended, each offense was punished separately. The court found Ah-Bian and Ah-Cheng guilty of 10 offenses. They were each sentenced to six years for each offense. Their sentences for each offense were reduced to three years. The total sentence was 30 years. The State Affairs Fund scandal is punishable under Article IV of the Corruption Act. It involves the "usurpation of public property," and is punishable by a sentence of 10 to life. In other words, the High Court did not impose the maximum sentence, but instead reduced their sentences to only three years for each offense.
Consider the Longtan Industrial Zone scandal. According to Article V of the Corruption Act, Ah-Bian and Ah-Cheng were each subject to at least seven years imprisonment for "accepting bribes in one's capacity as an official." The High Court originally sentenced Ah-Bian and Ah-Cheng each to 12 years. Consider the Diana Chen bribery scandal. Pursuant to Article V of the Corruption Act, they were each sentenced to eight years for "accepting bribes in one's capacity as an official." Consider the Nangang Exhibition Hall scandal, in which only Wu Shu-chen was charged. Pursuant to Article IV of the Corruption Act, she was found guilty of "accepting bribes in breach of official duties" and sentenced to 16 years. On the basis of corruption charges alone, the High Court sentenced Chen Shui-bian to 64 years imprisonment, and Wu Shu-cheng to 80 years imprisonment. Ah-Bian and Ah-Cheng were found guilty of falsifying official documents and money laundering, and sentenced for these crimes as well.
So many crimes. Such long sentences. Yet the High Court abruptly reduced the court's ruling of life imprisonment in the first instance, to "20 years imprisonment." Individuals convicted under the Republic of China criminal code often do not receive life sentences. Short of a life sentence, the longest sentence the courts are permitted to impose is 30 years, not 20 years. The upper limit of 20 years applies only to isolated offenses. Suppose the court does not wish to give Ah-Bian and Ah-Cheng life sentences. Altogether they were sentenced to 70 to 80 years. Shouldn't their sentences have been reduced to 30 years, and not merely 20? Also, apart from their terms of their imprisonment, the 200 million NT fine imposed upon Chen Shui-bian by the court of the first instance has been reduced to 170 million NT. The 300 million NT fine imposed upon Wu Shu-cheng has been reduced to 200 million NT. What justification can the high court offer for that?
The High Court has sharply reduced Ah-Bian and Ah-Cheng's sentences. But it has offered no justifications whatsover for pulling its punches. Instead, all we see is harsh language.
For example, the judge rebuked Ah-Bian and Ah-Cheng, saying that "high officials must be clean. They must not abuse their power for the benefit of their cronies and family members. Abusing public power for private gain shames the government, undermines society's values, and encourages lawlessness." The judge went to say that [Ah-Bian and Ah-Cheng] allowed family members to misappropriate public funds for private use. In the name of national economic development, they conducted illegal transactions that lined their own pockets. Heads of public agencies squandered public public funds, providing financial relief for favored private companies. Out of fear, the Minister of Finance arranged public jobs for private individuals. Through family members, Ah-Bian and Ah-Cheng used convoluted methods to launder illicit funds abroad. To disguise the criminal nature of their financial gains, and to avoid criminal prosecution, they knowing broke the law and betrayed the public trust.
What is one to make of such a stern rebuke, in conjunction with such a sharply reduced sentence? Most culpable and abhorrent of all is Ah-Cheng. She abused her power to satisfy her greed. Instead of forcing her to return her ill-gotten gains to the national treasury, the High Court has reduced her fines. What possible justification can the High Court have for its action? As president, Chen Shui-bian engaged in all manner of evil-doing. He should not be punished above and beyond the limits of the law. But what possible justification can the judges have to abet his criminal conduct by deliberately lightening his sentence? When the rebuke issued by the judge is diametrically opposed to the sentence handed down, the public is naturally going to feel conflicted. In short, the decision of the High Court is sharply at odds with ordinary citizens' understanding of the law.
Now consider characters other than Ah-Bian and Ah-Cheng. Take family members such as Chen Chih-chung and Huang Jui-ching. Take Ah-Bian confidants such as Ma Yung-cheng and Lin Teh-hsung. They too have had their sentences sharply reduced, also for no conceivable reason. For example, the High Court ruled that Chen Chih-chung and Huang Jui-ching knew perfectly well that Ah-Bian and Ah-Cheng's vast fortune was illicit gains, but nevertheless decided to act as accomplices in their complex money laundering schemes. The media even reported on the two of them, living it up abroad. In the eyes of society, Chen Chih-chung and Huang Jui-ching bear a heavy responsibility. Yet Chen Chih-chung and Huang Jui-ching received sharp reductions in their fines. Huang Jui-ching received probation. The 200 million NT they were required to pay in the first instance was reduced to a mere 10 million NT. Are the the judges truly unaware of the Chen family's financial clout? The reasons behind this slap on the wrist remain shrouded in mystery. The rebuke issued by the High Court was so harsh. Yet its sentence was so light. That is what the public finds utterly incomprehensible.