Friday, January 23, 2009

Rounding up the Chen Shui-bian Case

Yesterday's non-statement by Chen family members confused many:
Former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) son, Chen Chih-chung (陳致中), daughter-in-law, Huang Jui-ching (黃睿靚), and former first lady Wu Shu-jen’s (吳淑珍) brother, Wu Ching-mao (吳景茂), told a judge during a pre-trial hearing at the Taipei District Court yesterday that they might have been involved in money laundering.

A judge has to accept a statement before it can constitute a formal plea, a court spokesman said.

“I didn’t differentiate clearly between laundering money and handling funds,” Chen Chih-chung told reporters in the lobby of the court building after the two-hour hearing.
If the money is left-over campaign contributions, like the Chen side claims, then maybe they didn't launder money. So this is an admission that if Chen is guilty, then they are guilty. Which we all knew anyway....but Chen condemned his family when he sent millions through their accounts and then publicly admitted he hadn't paid the proper taxes on it. Also, I'm trying to recall whether the child of Blue heavyweight, Prez, and Veep candidate James Soong was called into court when he laundered money through her account and was eventually slammed with a massive tax fine. Can't recall that.....

Meanwhile Chen Shui-bian's daughter Chen Hsing-yu wrote a letter to the Liberty Times claiming that Frank Hsieh had a minor stroke before the election, which may have contributed to the loss, and that Dad's money had been spread around the party:
In addition to Hsieh’s health, Chen Hsing-yu said that her father asked her to keep quiet about donations he made to DPP members.

She said those who had accepted money from her father did not state it on their income tax returns and she was curious about where the leftover money had gone. They all swore an oath that they had never accepted money from her father.

She said that during the authoritarian era, all DPP members had dreams and ideals, but now they “lie, fabricate stories, abandon their dreams and sell their souls” to escape the crimes they have committed or hide their mistakes.

She said she hoped her father would never forget his dreams because they had kept his family going over the years and she was proud of him and always would be.
It's all old news, but it was good of her to rake over the coals again as Dad goes to trial. One thing that the Chen money explained when it was revealed last year was his grip on the party, which had seemed mysterious to many on the outside, including this writer. It also puts his claim that he was not interested in money because he accepted a reduced salary while in office in a totally new light -- it's ridiculous to anoint yourself a saint because you accepted a pay cut of thousands, if you rake in millions in campaign contributions/bribes.

Chen Shui-bian's new book, called the The Cross of Taiwan, is available in a bookstore near you. A number of excerpts are out there, including this one in the Financial Times in which Chen says China is delaying unification, and that he is -- brace yourself -- a "splittist":
Some people believe that if Taiwan makes concessions to China , China will respond benignly. This is a very naive fantasy. China cannot remove the missiles it has aimed at Taiwan , just as under the “one China ” principle it cannot accept separate interpretations of what one China means. China 's basic attitude towards Taiwan has already been set. It cannot be changed by people in Beijing but only by the 23m people in Taiwan . I admit that I seek not just de facto independence for Taiwan but also de jure independence. Therefore the criticisms levelled at me by China and the US during my eight years in office were not groundless. Just like they said, I am a splittist. I am a seeker and practitioner of de jure independence for Taiwan.
No kidding? Chen supports independence. Who wudda thunk it? UPDATE: Does the term "fenli zhuyizhe" (splittist) occur in the Chinese of this paragraph?

But, saving the best for last, Taiwan News carefully discusses what the recent legal moves mean, including the non-admission from Chen's family members that they couldn't tell the difference between helping Mom schlep cash out of Taiwan, and money laundering, as well as the two new charges piled on at the last minute by the prosecutors. Read carefully:
The expression of regret by Chen Chih-chung and spouse Huang Jui-chin for ''being unable to distinguish the line between 'handling' funds and 'money laundering'' acknowledged violations of the technical rules for offshore remittances, but left undetermined the far more significant question of whether the nearly NT$1.8 billion that they promised to return to Taiwan were legitimately ''political contributions'' as Wu has insisted or ''ill-gotten'' proceeds from ''bribes.''

This gap is vital for the decisive question of whether Taipei District Office (TDO) prosecutors can provide ''evidence beyond a reasonable doubt'' that Chen and his associates were ''corrupt.''


Monday's first pretrial hearing of this "trial of the century" exposed this dilemma as TPO prosecutors added two new charges against Chen to the indictment filed in November by the Special Investigation Unit of the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office, namely "extorting property and demanding donations using official influence" and "profiteering" in relation to the procurement of land for a high technology TFT-LCD fabrication plant in Lungtan, Taoyuan County.

The offence of "extortion through the use of influence" of property, assets or donations is covered in Article Four of the anti-corruption statute, while Article Six contains the crime of "intending to profit" through official functions that are not under the direct supervision of the official accused in knowing violation of his or her official powers for his or her own gain or the profit of other parties.

The original indictment regarding the Lungtan case concerned accepting bribes for the exercise of official powers and carried a sentence of seven years or more, but the charge of using influence for extortion carries an even heavier punishments of 10 years or more in jail and a maximum NT$100 million fine while the indirect profiteering charge is a felony with a sentence of five years or more.

While permitted under the Code of Criminal Procedures, legal analysts note that the addition of these heavier offences may lack legitimacy due to the possible connection with prior agitation by pro-KMT media and because the sudden addition of these two vaguely defined charges hints that the SIU's original indictment against Chen for bribery lacks solid direct evidence.

Chen, who filed an plea of "not guilty" to all charges Monday, has repeatedly stressed that actual decisions about government land procurements are decided by the Executive Yuan and not the Office of the President and has claimed that he supported but had no power to decide the project, which he maintains was "for the benefit of the economy."

If Chen had did not engage in any concrete action of accepting bribes, could not directly fulfill the implicit contract of a bribe by affecting a land procurement decision or did not have any collusion with other defendants, there would seem to be scant foundation to affix a bribery conviction.
If you've been carefully following the case, all along there have been strong indications that the prosecutors don't have a case, the most outstanding being the press conference last year in which 8 prosecutors stood to announce that they would pursue the case to the end, practically an admission that no evidence had been turned up yet.

The Longtan deal, in which Chen was supposedly bribed to swing a deal on land for a TFT-LCD plant in Taoyuan county, has a problem: Chen wasn't the decisionmaker, the Executive Yuan was. It would be stupid of the firm to bribe Chen when lower down, and presumably less expensive, decisionmakers inside the Executive Yuan could be bought. This weakness might be excusable if it were not the marker of an apparent pattern: when Dr. Ching Shieh was accused of price-fixing and kickbacks in the Tainan Science Park damping case, he actually had no control over the price -- just as Chen had no control over the land decision. Shieh was recently acquitted, and that case too looked a lot like a political vendetta.

Jerome Cohen, in one of his recent letters, noted that in Chinese jurisprudence the issue is not the legitimacy of the legal process but the guilt or innocence of the accused. The "trial by media" that Chen is undergoing is effective because it appeals to this cultural preference.

Chen's real crime, of course, was beating the KMT three times in open elections, once as mayor of Taipei, and twice as President. The KMT's obsession with revenge for those defeats appears to be the force behind the prosecutions. But Chen's allegations that the KMT's alliance with Beijing against Taiwan democracy is also driving things should be taken seriously: by exploring the special funds of the President, a good idea of who the DPP administration was giving money to in China will emerge -- and of course, now that the personal finances of Chen have been thoroughly explored, a pretty clear picture of the DPP's donor base must have been developed. Keep in mind that there's more to this than just a mere vendetta aimed at the ex-President of the other party....


David said...

Thanks for your analysis. It confirms what I thought, but the media reports I have read in English don't seem to really make clear exactly what happened.

Stephen said...

A supurb round-up and I think (hope) presents the basis by which the case against Chen will be undermined.
Though Chen's situation is looking rather grim, the KMT antics are quickly losing it international credibility and support. Ma is stuck because while he craves, indeed needs, that credibility he can't control the KMT hardliners that are destroying it. Lets hope their incompetence perists long enough to undermine all local credibility as well.

Anonymous said...

How do you walk when you are leaning so much to one side. A large home in Kaoshiang, expensive apartment in Taipei, Chen's son buying a watch a day with matching sterios systems, traveling back and forth, first class, to the US. Japan. and other countries. Chen blaming his wife, thinking that just because she is in a wheelchair she won't be placed in prison. And so many think all this money is to help Taiwan??

Michael Turton said...

How do you walk when you are leaning so much to one side.

Yes, it is bizarre of me to be a democracy supporter. It must be strange to those who are not...