Taiwan's Double Standard and the "Dogs of Bias"

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Wednesday February 10, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

Taiwan's former President Chen Shui-bian has been in jail since December 30, 2008 (over 400 days). The change in judges requested by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) to keep him there has extended his imprisonment for the third time. This time it is for two more months. His case reeks of the double standard that has never left Taiwan's prosecutorial function and the courts since the one-party state days of the KMT. While Ma Ying-jeou's former law professor Jerome Cohen and scores of professors have written open-letter after open-letter to point out these inconsistencies and erosion of justice, all the Minister of Justice (MOJ) and the Government Information Office (GIO) do is to laugh and try to create a veneer of legitimacy over Ma Ying-jeou's government.

Let's look behind the curtain. Taiwan has never had transitional justice; because of that the Ministry of Justice and the courts remain filled with left over prosecutors and judges from the privileged and lucrative one-party state days of the KMT. They still see the world with those jaundiced eyes, some perhaps even wanting to reconstruct the days of former privilege. Left over also from those glory days of the KMT is its lucrative system with its loose laws regarding special allowances for government officials as well as vague laws on what constitutes campaign donations/gift giving and the post election usage of those funds. It is a system built for money-laundering and corruption.

The combination of looseness and vagary of the laws give the prosecutors and courts extreme discretionary (and easily biased) powers in application. It is in that application where we begin to see the ease with which a double standard can be created and the reasons why for some, the prosecutors have gained themselves the name, "the dogs of bias." Compare and contrast the following harsh treatment dealt Chen with the lackadaisical and lenient treatment shown Diane Lee, and other KMT and former KMT members.

Begin with a favorite James Soong; James Soong is a man who has not had a job since 1998; that is a long time to be out of work. Yet during that time, James Soong has been able to live well and to finance two costly presidential campaigns and a costly campaign for Taipei Mayor. Further Soong wanted to recently host a lavish banquet for People's Republic of China (PRC) visitor Chen Yunlin. Where does the man get all his money? The dogs of bias don't even sniff at that, but the answer is the system. For a person with the right past connections and patronage, running for and holding office in Taiwan can be a means to easily get and money-launder alleged gains and gifts. Some even speculate that the only reason Soong recently ran for Taipei Mayor (a race in which he only got 4 per cent of the vote) was not to win, but to money-launder his remaining People's First Party (PFP) campaign and other system funds.

Where were the dogs of bias through all this? Soong had been implicated in the Chungsing Bills Finance Company scandal (that money was never regained) and he was also found guilty of using campaign funds as his personal assets but he never spent a day in jail. His assets were never frozen and his family and friends were not harassed by press or prosecutors. In the end, all he had to do was pay a small "gift tax." Privilege, prejudice, pursuit of justice? You be the judge.

Then there is the recently convicted Diane Lee; as a Legislator and city councilor she was found guilty of illegally holding dual citizenship and profiting by some US$3 million dollars. Her sentence for US$3 million was commuted to two years. She claimed innocence because she believed the citizenship would have expired by her taking office, yet she condemned another officeholder of being guilty of the same crime with no benefit of doubt. She also willfully and repeatedly left blank the official form where she had to state whether she had dual citizenship. Why? If she really believed she was innocent, why not fill it in as not having dual citizenship? Lee is still free pending appeal. She has never spent a day in jail nor had her assets frozen, nor had her family and KMT defenders questioned as accomplices in crime. The dogs of bias never pursued the point that if she held office for 14 years, and a passport is only good for 10 years, somewhere, sometime, somehow in those 14 years she would have had to knowingly renew that passport with signature and photos. She also has profited in other ways by the special funds and perks of the system. A smart prosecutor might make a case for treason where a fraudulent person with the escape means of dual citizenship willfully makes laws for a country she is not committed to. Such a person is more easily open to moneyed influence and bribes from countries like the PRC. Yet the dogs of bias sleep and Lee still walks.

Then there is the well known case of Ma Ying-jeou where Ma's secretary was found guilty of illegally putting some US$.5 million dollars into Ma's bank account. He took the fall and spent 9 months in jail, but Ma walked. Ma never spent a day in jail even when indicted. Others were not questioned. The dogs of bias sniffed, but had an easy rabbit and let it go at that.

When a KMT person has been found guilty of corruption such as former Chang-hua County council speaker Pai Hung-shen and sentenced to eight years in prison, he never did time during his indictment or trial. When convicted he first was allowed to go to Taichung Veterans General Hospital for heart surgery. Then, surprise of surprises, Pai a man well into his 60s and recovering from heart surgery was able to give his police guard the slip and was last seen relaxing in a villa in Xiamen, China. The dogs of bias never gave a whimper, Pai's assets were never frozen, his relatives never questioned. Even the Minister of Justice seemed unconcerned.

In Chen's case, he has been imprisoned since the time of his indictment and not allowed to properly prepare a defense. His every conversation with his lawyers has been for a long time illegally monitored. He still does jail time despite his appeal. The issue is not that large funds were moved, Chen admits to it. The issue is the vague laws of campaign gifts and discretionary funds and the biased pursuit of some and not others.

Is Chen guilty? Let the courts decide, but let it be a fair trial with a fair chance at defense and a fair investigation. Anyone and everyone associated with Chen has been indicted and called in as the prosecutors fish for evidence. Like rabid dogs the prosecutors further bully, badger and detain all; their evidence is circumstantial but they hope to pressure someone to give them a shred of evidence. What they should be attacking is a system where so many KMT have profited in the past. Instead, they seek to prove that the campaign funds that so many others have profited by in the past, were bribes for Chen but "gifts or gains" of the system for others. The most extreme and absurd example has been their indicting Chen's housekeeper under the charge that her year end bonus was the result of illegal campaign funds. Can anyone fathom the absurdity of a situation where any employee receiving his/her year end bonus, is obliged to know or ask where that bonus money came from and whether it was illegal or not?

In Freedom House's assessment of Taiwan's status of a free country, it advanced from grade 2 to grade 1 because of an increased crackdown on corruption; however it lost ground going from grade 1 to grade 2 in the loss of civil rights citing the example of the handling of Chen Shui-bian's case as paramount. Su Jun-pin, the Minister of the Government Information Office (GIO) has tried to twist this to say it is an "affirmation of our progress." In reality it is a stagnant holding of the status quo with a definite more feared loss of civil liberties; all the Ma government has done is to rob Peter to pay Paul but the GIO calls it progress.

Finally there is the matter of unprofessional and perhaps unethical skits. Chen's prosecutors in a year end party with the judiciary mocked the former president's imprisonment in a skit. With such rich past experiences, why did the dogs of bias only perform a skit on Chen and never on others? Look at the rich material. There could be a skit where Ma Ying-jeou self-righteously proclaims, "It was not I who put that filthy money in my personal bank account, it was my dastardly secretary." Or a skit with Diane Lee weeping crocodile tears saying, "Please don't take away the illegal US$3 million I gained. I worked hard for that illegal money." Or a skit with a prosecutor giving James Soong a slap on the wrist and saying, "Sorry we had to do that Mr. Soong. By the way, I have a nephew looking for a job; do you think you could help?" And last but not least a version of the Keystone Kops where the MOJ and police allow the elderly Pai Hung-shen to give them the slip.

The only skit that the alleged dogs of bias performed was that on Chen. What is worse, the Minister of Justice ignoring professional ethics tried to pass it off. Like a situation where someone's large dogs with muddy paws have just jumped all over you and knocked you down and the owner says, "It's just playful fun, aren't they cute puppies." Is justice eroding? Is Taiwan under Ma Ying-jeou reverting to the privileged one-party state days of the KMT? Is the name "dogs of bias" well-deserved? You be the judge.