Saturday, January 8, 2011

How Much Corruption and Phony Campaign Contributions Must We Endure?

How Much Corruption and Phony Campaign Contributions Must We Endure?
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
January 8, 2011

Legislator Huang Wei-tse has been accused of accepting 3.6 million NT in bribes from cemetery developers. The Tainan District Court ruled him innocent in the first instance trial. It ruled that industry leaders gave him "campaign contributions" rather than "bribe money." On the same day, the Supreme Court found Lin Chung-cheng, former member of the FSC, guilty of accepting 1.87 million NT in bribes from a securities firm, in the form of repairs to his cabin. He has been sentenced to fourteen years in prison. The discrepancy in sentences between the two cases, is like night and day.

The "Political Donations Act" has been in force nearly seven years. The provisions of the act clearly define what a political contribution is. But in legal and political reality, how politicians receive money and gifts from others, remains one giant gray area. This leads to almost diametrically opposite court rulings. Sometimes bribery is severely punished. Sometimes bribery is rationalized as "political contributions," enabling the defendant to escape criminal prosecution. This has led to inconsistencies in the administration of justice, and left people confused and troubled.

Consider the Huang Wei-tse case. He accepted money from a business firm on three different occasions. Of the three, only the third sum, which amounted to 2 million NT, coincided with the third legislative election. The 2 million NT check was deposited in his election campaign account. This could be considered in line with the legal requirements for political contributions. But the other two sums he accepted when no election was ongoing. They were inconsistent with the legal requirements pertaining to campaign accounts. They were cash transfers, in sums of 1,000,000 NT and 600,000 NT. The amount, the form, and the procedure were all in violation of the legal requirements of the Political Donation Act. Wu Den-yih received a half million NT in political contributions from industry during election season. This was deposited in his account according to the prevailing legal requirements. But because the sum was in cash, the half million NT was confiscated. He was fined 20,000 NT in addition. The judge in the first instance trial ruled that the sums Huang Wei-tse received were "political contributions," yet failed to hold him legally responsible. Was he deliberately pulling his punches? Or was he manipulating the law?

Also, the industry head transferred the funds through Huang Wei-tse's assistant. The first time 1,000,000 NT in cash changed hands. Huang Wei-tse received 600,000 NT. His assistant received 400,000 NT. The second time 600,000 changed hands. Huang Wei-tse received 400,000 NT. His assistant received 200,000 NT. If these were above board campaign contributions, why did his assistant "get a piece of the action?" The money was divided 60/40. Was his assistant "skimming off the top?" Was he being paid a "finder's fee?" This must be investigated thoroughly. It may not be passed off simply as "campaign contributions."

Lin Chung-cheng is not an elected official. He accepted gifts of LCD TVs and cabin repair costs from industry heads. He cannot write them off as political contributions. He accepted nearly 2 million NT in benefits. For this, he was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Huang Wei-tse accept 3,000,000 NT, yet got off scot-free. Lin can only bemoan his bad luck, for not running into that kind of judge. But what legal standards have such diametrically opposed decisions left society? Is the justice system nothing more than a game of Russian Roulette? It is nothing more than a matter of dumb luck?

Over the past year, a long string of court decisions have thrown open the doors to bribery in the guise of political contributions. They have blurred the line between between black and white. They have trampled over the dignity of the law. Two major problems are involved. One. Illegal gifts from industry have been characterized as "political contributions," and recipients have not been held responsibile for criminal conduct. Two. The perpetrators argue there was no "quid pro quo," thereby rationalizing bribery. This has indirectly promoted the phenomenon of the "rationalization of bribery."

Consider the most obvious example. Chen Shui-bian used his Second Financial Reform "program" to exort 600 million NT in bribes from the financial sector. Chou Chan-chun had the chutzpah to argue that Chen never exercised "presidential authority," and let him off scot-free. Former Minister of Transportation Kuo Yao-chi received a tea container filled with 20,000 US from an industry head. The physical evidence was incontrovertible. Yet he was acquitted on the basis that "there was no quid pro quo. The Huang Wei-tse case was the same. He admitted lobbying the Construction and Planning Agency. Yet the Full Court ruled that he lobbied in a "personal capacity" rather than "on behalf of the Legislative Yuan." It ruled that his lobbying had nothing to do with his legislative duties, therefore the money he accepted could not be considered a bribe. But if he was not a legislator, would the Construction and Planning Department take another look at the case merely because he asked it to? Can officials or elected representatives accept money, as long as the case is not directly under their jurisdiction? The Judicial Yuan must provide the public with an acounting.

If only one or two cases were involved, that would be one thing. But a spate of such critical court rulings have exposed official wrongdoing and official undermining of the nation's laws. How can one not be concerned? Lai Hao-min has been President of the Judicial Yuan for just over two months. He earnestly wants to establish an enduring system of justice. But his attempt to establish judicial integrity is being undermined by justice system officials with weaker and weaker commitments to the law. Does he really not mind?

The Judicial Yuan must clarify three issues. One. It must make a clearer distinction between "bribes" and "contributions." Two. It must prosecute illegal campaign contributions. Three. It must clearly define "quid pro quo relationship" and "official responsibility."

【聯合報╱社論】 2011.01.08 01:27 am










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