Can Corruption Be Tolerated? Chen and His Wife Will Be Imprisoned
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
November 12, 2010
On the eve of the five cities elections, a string of court rulings have been handed down in the Chen family corruption cases. The "not guilty" ruling in the Second Financial Reform scandal has provoked a public outcry. But yesterday the Supreme Court handed down its third instance ruling in the Longtan Land Acquisition scandal and Diana Chen presidential appointment scandal. Former President Chen Shui-bian and former First Lady Wu Shu-cheng were sentenced to ten years and eight years respectively. Chen Shui-bian and his wife will be required to serve out their sentences. The Chen family corruption scandals have been the source of controversy on Taiwan for the past two years. Finally, the first wave of sentences have been rendered. For the first time in the history of the Republic of China, a former president will do prison time.
The reason the Supreme Court found Chen Shui-bian and Wu Shu-chen guilty in its third instance ruling is simple. Under the Punishment of Corruption Act, abusing one's official position to extort bribes is a crime. Anyone who accepts money or property as a result of one's official position, is guilty. This includes accepting contributions disguised as gifts. Whether a relationship exists between the considerations depends upon one's official position and the relationship between the recipient and the donor. The form of bribery, the amount, the time the gifts were made, are all evaluated objectively. The law stipulates that "one may not assume that property exchanged in the name of commissions or gifts bear no relation to official position, or that no quid pro quo was involved."
The Supreme Court further pointed out that "the performance of one's official duties" refers to what civil servants ought to do or must do, within the scope of their duties. As long as their behavior is related to their duties, "that constitutes a substantive relationship the influence wielded due to one's official position."
Chou Chan-chun presided over the Second Financial Reform scandal first instance trial. Can he not feel shame as he reads the Supreme Court's ruling? Chou Chan-chun ignored the law. He selectively cited constitutionally stipulated presidential authority in order to rationalize away Chen Shui-bian and Wu Shu-chen's bribe taking. He attempted to justify Ah-Bian's criminal conduct. He argued that Ah-Bian overstepped his presidential authority when he implemented his Second Financial Reform "program." He argued that since his intervention was not a constitutionally mandated authority of the president, therefore he did not abuse his official position. He argued that therefore no criminal conduct was involved. Since there was no crime, he argued that Chen cannot be convicted of money laundering.
If the Supreme Court shared Chou Chan-chun's distorted view of the law, could Ah-Bian and Ah-Chen have be found guilty in the Longtan Land Acquisition scandal? The Longtan Land Acquisition and Diana Chen presidential appointment scandals bore even less relationship with the president's official authority. Had the Supreme Court invoked the same twisted reasoning as Chou, the First Couple would also have been found "not guilty" of money laundering. Fortunately, most judges on Taiwan are nothing like Chou Chan-chun. They have a genuine understanding of the law. They bear no resemblance to Chou Chan-chun, who ignores right and wrong, who renders judgments based on his own selfish political preferences. The Diana Chen presidential appointment scandal involved domestic money laundering. The Supreme Court judge also found Wu Shu-chen guilty, and sentenced her to one year and two months, commuted to seven months.
Judges are also voters. They will inevitably have their own likes and dislikes regarding politicians and political parties. But they are the final arbiters of justice in society. Their independence and professionalism while adjudicating cases is far more important. Even DPP leaders find it impossible to endorse Chou Chan-chun's ruling. Former legislator Lin Cho-shui openly declared that Chou's ruling was wrong. Lin Cho-shui also cited the constitution and pointed out the absuridity of Chou Chan-chun's constitutional interpretation. After the constitution was amended, the president's power to nominate the premier had already become the president's power to appoint the premier. He even had the power to fire the premier. The president can hardly be considered a "virtual president." Especially since the president also convenes the National Security Council. He determines the nation's overall security policy. Economic and fiscal policies are all part of this overall policy. How can such a president be characterized as a president "lacking in authority?"
The Supreme Court rendered its judgment in the Longtan Land Acquisition case and the Diana Chen presidential appointment case. By doing so, they have provided the strongest legal justification for a second instance conviction in the Second Financial Reform corruption case. The case pertains not only to Chen Shui-bian and Wu Shu-chen. Most importantly, no legal precedent for the conviction of a president on corruption charges exists in Republic of China history. Therefore we must establish strict standards. No matter how much power a president may wield, he may not engage in corruption. This simple truth is not something any judge can change via distorted legal opinions.
The Chen corruption case is unquestionably the most earth-shaking scandal Taiwan has experienced in recent years. Most honest people find the First Couple's first instance acquittal difficult to believe, let alone to accept. How could someone occupying such a high office, pocket billions via so many different channels? The justice system on Taiwan has prosecuted many corrupt officials and elected representatives. Only presidents have never been prosecuted. Add to this fact serious Blue vs. Green political confrontation, and the resolution of the Chen corruption case is indeed a knotty problem. But this is a matter of right vs. wrong. From the investigation to the trial, the sole issue must remain right vs. wrong. Only then can we remain true to our consciences.
The Supreme Court has rendered its third instance ruling in two of the Chen family corruption cases. Ah-Bian and Ah-Chen will be sent to prison to serve out their sentences. Chen Shui-bian says he wants to go to prison. He also says he wants to go to Kaohsiung. Wu Shu-chen's situtation is somewhat special. Under the Code of Criminal Procedure, inmates who might die as a result of physical ailments must be admitted to a hospital or other appropriate facility. There are precedents for seriously ill inmates serving out their sentences at home. Should Wu Shu-chen be classified as "seriously ill?" People may disagree. But the physical condition of the former first lady is definitely a factor that must be taken into consideration.
Chen Shui-bian was elected by citizens of the Republic of China, one vote at a time. He led the nation for eight years. This protracted litigation is not about Blue vs. Green. It is nothing less than a national trauma. But this is merely the first in a long string of corruption case rulings to come. Like it or not, the Chen family corruption cases will continue to impact the political situation on Taiwan for some time to come.