Thursday, September 17, 2009

WSJ Fail on Chen Verdict

The Wall Street Journal's editorial page, evidently piped in from an alternate reality where Oceania and Eastasia are perpetually at war, announced that the Chen Verdict can be Really Good Thing for Taiwan's democracy. To wit:
Former President Chen Shui-bian's conviction Friday of stealing three million dollars from state coffers and accepting bribes worth several times that amount was a shock to Taiwan. The question now is how well the island's political and judicial systems will withstand this verdict.

Taiwan has been a democracy for a mere 14 years, and when Mr. Chen was elected in 2000 he was the first opposition leader to win power after five decades of Kuomintang rule. Now he is the first head of state to be found guilty of corruption (though he says he is innocent and is appealing the verdict). Both of those firsts are, in their own ways, testaments to Taiwan's political maturation.

That's not to say that Mr. Chen's trial was without controversy. His supporters are inflamed by allegations of judicial bias and prosecutorial overreach during the trial, and protests flared up over the weekend. Chief among their grievances are the facts that Mr. Chen was held incommunicado for more than a month (legal under Taiwanese law) and that the initial presiding judge hearing the case was replaced by an unusual, but valid court procedure (Mr. Chen's case was merged with his wife's case).
The editorial goes wrong all over the place, but in the last paragraph things get particularly ugly. It is not merely "Chen's supporters" who are inflamed (with the reverse implication that those of us who are inflamed are Chen's supporters) but rather a large swath of people who truly care about the future of the island. For example, Jerome Cohen, President Ma's law school mentor, and who is otherwise completely pro-KMT in all his public speaking, has repeatedly criticized the way the case has been handled. The Taipei Bar Association (Chen supporters? Be serious) criticized the government's investigation of Chen's lawyer. The President of the Judicial Reform Foundation was critical, and the Judicial Reform Foundation pointed out that there were many problems with the case, 'especially with his detention.' As early as Feb, in fact, the Judicial Reform Foundation was complaining about it (Straits Times).

WSJ forgot to mention that when the previous judge ruled in favor of former President Chen, legislators threatened to have him impeached -- an event which was followed by the swap of the judges. No point in mentioning the letters from concerned scholars, four to date, on this case and related issues. No point in mentioning that the judge who sent Chen up for life was the same one who cleared Ma on same charge despite the fact, which no one disputed, that the special funds were in his own personal accounts. Or that two members of a powerful business family, the Koos, with longtime KMT connections, one of whom was a fugitive overseas, turned state witness and agreed to testify about allegedly illegal business deals involving Chen’s family. Somehow the fugitive managed to avoid detention after his return from Japan (Taipei Times). But Chen was detained for four months.....

WSJ apparently doesn't remember the eight prosecutors who held a press conference to announce that they would "get Chen." The skits by prosecutors that mocked Chen, the constant leaks to the press about the case, and the fact that the Chen case was one of a string of indictments against DPP politicians... one could go on all day. No WSJ, this won't be good for Taiwan, and asking the KMT to strengthen its "anticorruption" efforts is simply to legitimate its apparent use of "corruption" as a cover story for going after DPP politicians. In your next editorial WSJ, why don't you ask Singapore to strengthen its libel laws?

Moreover, "inflamed supporters" were not protesting being incommunicado, but the fact of detention itself -- the only such case in the island's history where the defendant was detained so long prior to trial (High ranking KMT hooligans have generally been allowed to run off to China, where many still reside) along with all the other things I've mentioned here. Hung Ying-hua, a local judge who has criticized the prosecution of Chen, has a piece today in the Taipei Times on the constitutionality of the verdict.

Of course, the KMT is now proposing to de-criminalize taking money from the special funds -- the law Chen was accused of breaking -- now that the Chen case is finished. (correction: the state affairs fund and the special funds are slightly different, according to my law geek friends).

It is time to stop treating the system as if it were correct by default. One could just as easily and truthfully have written that the only educated observers who think this was a fair verdict from a fair trial are KMT supporters. Everyone else appears to have reservations about it. CS Monitor noted back in May:
In a December poll conducted by Taiwan's Academia Sinica, 50 percent of Taiwanese said the island's judicial system was biased (compared with 38 percent who said it was impartial), while 59 percent said Taiwanese law did not sufficiently safeguard human rights.
As AFP noted much more fairly in its report:
Questions remain over whether his life sentence was a sign of a healthy legal system in which everyone is equal before the law, or if it marked the birth pangs of a banana republic with the courts reduced to tools in the hands of the powerful.
It's not difficult to see what kind of verdict this is -- one that is the opposite of testifying to political maturation of the island -- in fact, one that appears to more closely resemble a KMT party-state verdict from the bad old days.

What would be "testimony to the island's political maturation?" A Truth Commission, or trials for all those who murdered, tortured, and imprisoned islanders during the martial law period.

Fortunately, many in the international media have covered how strange and shocking the verdict is. Most recently Canadian journalist Jonathon Manthorpe, author of the excellent book Forbidden Nation, had another of his high-quality pieces in the Vancouver Sun this week, pointing out that the evidence cannot sustain the verdict (naturally the WSJ editorial did not consider the question of the evidence itself). A sample:

The indictment is 202 pages in Chinese. The press release from the Taipei District Court announcing the verdict is 59 pages and this, apparently, is a prelude to the full 1,500-page judgment.

The first 190 pages of the indictment track the $30 million US in campaign donations and $15 million US in presidential discretionary funds on their way to accounts in the Cayman Islands and Switzerland.

This is the money laundering case, but it is only a crime if the money was illegally obtained. And nowhere in the prosecution's case is there evidence that this money was got illegally. There's a lot of supposition and sly suggestion, but no evidence.

The nub of it has always been that Chen says the money was campaign donations, and no one has proven otherwise. Chen is probably guilty of tax evasion -- James Soong, the KMT heavyweight, was busted for that a few years back for doing essentially the same thing with campaign donations -- and like Soong, should pay a massive fine.

Speaking of fines, the government yesterday indicted legislator Diane Lee, daughter of powerful politico Lee Huan, on fraud and forgery charges for failing to disclose her other nationality. If you go back to December and January and read on the Chen and Lee cases, they often co-occur in the media. It sure looks a lot like she is going to be a bit of political theatre, the small sacrifice intended to show that the prosecutor's office is color-blind. And that means that in her own twisted way -- despite what the DPP argues are light charges -- Lee herself is a victim of the politicized judiciary.
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SY said...

WSJ wrote: ...the initial presiding judge hearing the case was replaced by an unusual, but valid court procedure.

No, it was not a valid court procedure. It was an invented procedure, which Chen's lawyers have challenged as unconstitutional and brought to the Grand Judges on Jan 15, 2009 for ruling. The grand judges have been sleeping on it for 8 months now. And, it looks like they will not act at all "for fear of potentially bringing political instability to the society" (by Liberty Times report.)

BTW, I have been wondering why Chen's wife Wu Shu-Jen could be charged with and sentenced to life in prison for "corruption" since she did not hold a public serving position.

Yesterday, the same Taipei District Prosecutors charged Diane Lee with "fraud and forgery" for deliberately concealing dual citizenship while holding public office.

When asked why not corruption, the prosecutors claimed that they could not charge Lee with corruption becauset Lee's tenure of public office was "invalid to begin with". That is, someone who does not hold public office cannot be charged with corruption.

Why Wu then? I am really confused.

Άλισον said...

Bravo to excellent journalism by Canadian Jonathon Manthorpe!

Reading and researching between massive info is quite a task, but in my opinion to be an independent clear-minded observer, not influenced by unfounded allegations (especially Taiwan's pan-blue media) always produce top quality result.

I will post my opinion of Chen's verdict soon.

Ben Goren said...

Brilliant post Mike .. and there's lots of material for academic uses as well. Got to love this though:

"Robert Gates has brilliant insight, argues that China could undermine US power in the Pacific. No wonder he's a government official and I'm just a pudgy balding blogger. Tune in next week when Gates discovers fire and agriculture."

Anonymous said...

It's important to mention the Shi-lin District Court judge who spoke out and called the judgment (switching judges instead of the randomly assigned one) unconstitutional. She had previously been a KMT representative or alternative, so there is no trying to call her a Greeny.

Anonymous said...

Hi..thanks for your great blog. The appointment of the judge is without a doubt unconstitutional. and a litle bit of a side track, why does china want taiwan back so much?~just because for its reputation or pressure within the party?

Robert R. said...

I was a bit surprised by Taipei Times' with Sin-ming Shaw's comments today. Anyone else?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but you just can't leave this out of any description of Diana Lee. Back when she was masquerading as a city councilor, she was a violent hound dog attacking I believe the DPP's Chen Shi-meng, who was then a US citizen that had just been appointed to a position by then Taipei mayor Chen Shui-bian. Chen Shi-meng flew to Thailand or somewhere to renounce his US citizenship.

All the votes for all the bills she voted on need to be recounted. Once recounted, any problematic bills need to be resolved ASAP.

So. While skewering a DPP appointee for having dual citizenship and explicitly saying that he had to sign paperwork to give it up, she herself continues to hold US citizenship, and when finally confronted last year, she claims that she doesn't need to fill out any paperwork. This woman is disgusting, and she needs to be locked up for a long time. But just as satisfying is if she takes her still valid US citizenship and flees to the US instead of facing criminal charages in Taiwan. It will show exactly what kind of people these China-loving jerks with nothing seriously invested in Taiwan are.

Anonymous said...

Former KMT lawmaker Gary Wang was convicted of the largest corporate fraud in Taiwan's history. Yet, even a billion embezzlement scheme wasn't enough to deny him bail. Interestingly, Mr. Wang has just been appointed CEO of Carlyle controlled ETV. Just like old times!

Stephen A. Nelson said...

From Asia Times Online last January

But what about in Taiwan? What will be the fate of the democratic movement?

"It's been said that the very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common,” said Li Sai Fung, a former radio broadcaster in Taipei. “Instead of altering their views to fit the facts, they alter the facts to fit their views - which can be very uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that need altering.”

For the KMT old guard, said Li, "Chen-Shui Bian and the DPP is one of the facts that needs altering."

Richard said...

I was a bit surprised by Taipei Times' with Sin-ming Shaw's comments today. Anyone else?

Yeah, pretty different from their usual editorials. But, the only way I see it is that it's a move to try and further distance CSB from everyone, including the DPP. It's pretty hard hitting on CSB, and I definitely don't get where the author is trying to go with this line:

This official effort to portray native “Taiwanese” as a separate ethnic group, with scant relation to Chinese culture, was extended to language, as Chen favored using Taiwanese in lieu of Mandarin spoken by 1.3 billion Chinese and taught all over the world.

Mandarin spoken by 1.3 billion Chinese? Correct. But why not say, Mandarin spoken by majority of Taiwanese, instead? Anyways, I think the author is very on point with his remarks on what the DPP need to do- become a party for all Taiwanese, bengshengren, waishengren, hakka, aboriginal, etc.

Only thing is, most pro-China supporters come from waishengren background.

Dwayne Elizondo said...

Excellent analysis (as usual) an comments.

That Sin-ming Shaw's article referenced by RobertR is a Project Syndicate (George Soros - establishment - sell out Taiwan) hit piece. I wonder why TaipeiTimes keeps running PS articles. They should know better.

Yves said...

Robert, Richard, Dwayne,

An interesting comment in Sponge Bear (Kaminoge) with a kind of refutation of the Shaw Sin Ming's piece:

Shaw Sin-ming has a website which displays all his papers ( as well as a blog (, although the latter has only recent entries. He seems to be a kind of "progressive" intellectual living in the West, and at the same time, a hardcore reunificationist believing in "democracy" in the sense of KMT's Sanmin zhuyi. His name, and his thoughts, sound similar to Shaw Yu-ming, who was a govt spokesperson in the 80's and 90's and is now in charge of US relationships in Ma's government. Against Communism, for China.