Influence Peddling Must Not Become Our National Shame
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China)
November 4, 2013
Summary: Prosecutor General Huang Shi-ming has been indicted for leaking evidence and other crimes. The Wang Ker influence peddling case is headed toward another anticlimax. The entire affair has become a perversion of justice in which those who peddle influence get off scot free, while whistleblowers are pilloried. If the responsible bodies ignore the danger of influence peddling on the criminal justice system, Huang Shi-ming will not be the only victim. The victim will be anyone courageous enough to defy special interests and speak the truth. If the influence peddling case is swept under the rug, it will be the collective shame of twenty-first century Taiwan.
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Prosecutor General Huang Shi-ming has been indicted for leaking evidence and other crimes. The Wang Ker influence peddling case is headed toward another anticlimax. The entire affair has become a perversion of justice in which those who peddle influence get off scot free, while whistleblowers are pilloried.
Huang Shi-ming committed procedural errors while handling the influence peddling case. These errors led to charges of leaking secrets and illegal wiretapping. He must bear responsibility for any such errors. But consider the integrity of the system of government. Almost everyone has forgotten the real issue -- influence peddling. Instead, everyone is pontificating in on procedural minutiae. Is this not ironic? As matters stand, the prosecution is divided into opposing camps. The central issue -- justice -- has been forgotten. The Blue and Green political parties each have their axes to grind. The criminal justice system sits by and watches, doing nothing. It drags its feet on the revocation of Wang Jin-pyng's party membership. In the event Huang Shi-ming is sacrificed and convicted, how much respect will the public still have for the criminal justice system?
The Taipei District Prosecutor's Office is indicting Huang Shi-ming. It is attempting to demonstrate that its prosecutors are independent, that even a lowly District Prosecutor can indict the Prosecutor General. But its indictment reduces the Wang Jin-pyng influence peddling case to a "personal matter." It minimizes the importance of influence peddling on the criminal justice system, even as it maximizes the importance of procedural errors. It applies an unreasonably narrow definition of the "public interest" vis a vis wire tapping. Applying such grossly lopsided standards in order to prosecute Huang Shi-ming can only undermine confidence in the criminal justice system.
It is hard to argue that Huang Shi-ming did not make procedural errors while prosecuting the Wang Ker influence peddling case. Special Investigative Unit prosecutors were still hearing the case. Wiretaps were still in progress. The official investigation was still ongoing. Huang Shi-ming decided to reclassify the case as an "unlawful procedure" instead of an "unlawful prosecution." But that is his own spin, nothing more. He erroneously cited Article 44 of the Constitution, which states that when one Yuan has a dispute with another, the President shall convene a dispute settlement session. He rushed off to the presidential palace to report, turning the influence peddling case into a constitutional controversy.
But peel away the layers of the onion. Return to the legal definition of leaking secrets. Here is what we must consider. When Huang Shi-ming reported the case to the President, did he really violate secrecy? To safeguard the public interest and to protect legitimate rights and interests, prosecutors may reveal confidential information to people other than investigators.
Huang Shi-ming stated repeatedly that the case concerned high-level Legislative Yuan officials. Even the Premier was powerless to prosecute them. Lin Hsiu-tao was subpoenaed. That could have led to the leak. To prevent the influence peddling case from being swept under the rug, and to ensure that the president was not taken by surprise by the fact that the Speaker of the Legislature was peddling influence, Huang reported to the President. District Prosecutors declared these considerations "inconsistent with the public interest." Were they? That is questionable. When prosecutors search the premises of a specific organization, or interrogate a specific individual, they invariably notify the head of the relevant agency. Wouldn't that amount to a "leak?" Huang Shi-ming reported case information to the President. The Supreme Prosecutor's Office completed its investigation on September 6. The results proved that the direction taken by the Special Investigation Unit was unaffected by progress reports issued to the President.
This time prosecutors refused to accept Huang Shi-ming's argument that extraordinary measures were necessary because those engaged in influence peddling were too highly placed. Instead, they reproached Huang Shi-ming. If other high-level cases within the system can be disregarded, authoritarianism may well make a comeback. The District Prosecutors' argument underestimates Legislative Yuan influence peddling. This was unprecedented, and unlikely to recur. We may be playing Monday morning quarterback. But what must a Prosecutor General do to abide by the system, but also punish wrongdoers? That remains unanswered. Opinions differ. How can District Prosecutors cavalierly declare that all the necessary legal institutions and mechanisms are already in place?
The influence peddling case has monopolized the headlines for several months. Huang Shi-ming finds himself besieged, threatened with criminal and administrative penalties. Meanwhile, what is the Legislative Yuan doing about the influence peddling case? The Disciplinary Committee is obdurately dragging its feet. The penalties for the Legislative Practices Act desperately need to be updated and enforced. But the Legislative Yuan pretends to be deaf and dumb. If it pillories Huang Shi-ming, what will it be? Will it be the nemesis or champion of criminal justice on Taiwan?
Huang Shi-ming was guilty of administrative oversights. For those he must bear responsibility. But was reporting the Speaker of the Legislature's influence peddling to the President really "leaking secrets?" That is highly dubious. Huang Shi-ming is aloof and proud. He refuses to apologize for his omissions. But ruling and opposition legislators alike want only to be rid of him. That amounts to a political vendetta against the criminal justice system. The District Prosecutor's Office has indicted Huang Shi-ming. Did the Taipei District Prosecutors Office demonstrate courage? Or are the rumors true? Did the Tseng Yung-fu camp exact revenge against Huang, in spades? For the answer, officials within the criminal justice system must look into their hearts.
Huang Shi-ming's personal fate is not something we must wring our hands over. What should concern us is our system of government, criminal justice, and social values. Amidst political struggles, personal grudges, and factional disputes, these have been forgotten and sacrificed. Meanwhile, details and formalties continue to be blown all out of proportion. The underlying issue, the substance, is obliterated from our consciousness. If the responsible bodies ignore the danger of influence peddling on the criminal justice system, Huang Shi-ming will not be the only victim. The victim will be anyone courageous enough to defy special interests and speak the truth. If the influence peddling case is swept under the rug, it will be the collective shame of twenty-first century Taiwan.
2013.11.04 01:55 am