Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Former President Ma Indicted

Stopping traffic for a procession

President Ma was indicted yesterday on charges of leaking state secrets (SCMP):
The Taipei District Prosecutors Office alleges Ma violated the Communication Security and Surveillance Act and the Personal Information Protection Act. The former president could face up to three years in jail on the charges. “Ma chose an improper way to deal with what he believed were political flaws and responsibilities involving cabinet members,” prosecutors office spokesman Chang Chieh-hsin said.
The Special Investigation Division (SID) was tapping the legislative phone system. I wrote at the time:
Readers may recall that Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng had been publicly accused by the President of influence peddling by calling the Minister of Justice and having him tell the prosecutors not to appeal a not guilty verdict against Ker. The DPP politicians also said that the SID had been monitoring the prosecutor in the Ker case, which the SID admitted. They admitted that they monitored her 12 year old daughter, accidentally, since she was using her mom's phone (SCMP). They then switched to the husband's phone which Lin Hsiu-tao was using, musical phones being a common feature of busy families.

It is striking that no transcript of the alleged phone calls telling the prosecutor to lay off Ker has been produced by the SID, since it has leaked transcripts of Wang Jin-pyng's phone calls. Indeed, the lack of such leaks suggests that no such transcripts exist. This tends to support Wang's claims that he was just comforting Ker and hadn't done anything.
Allegedly Ker Chien-ming, the DPP whip, called Wang Jin-pyng, then the KMT speaker, and asked him to lobby the prosecutor and the Minister of Justice in a case involving Ker. Transcripts of Wang's words with Ker were leaked, but no transcript of Wang talking to either of the other two was leaked. Wang insisted that he had done nothing illegal, and no evidence was produced that he had.

This information was given to Ma by SID Chief Huang Shih-ming. The DPP had long been claiming that the SID, which began its career prosecuting Chen Shui-bian, was a political tool designed to be used by the President against his perceived political enemies, and in that moment, their claims were totally vindicated. Huang would later be indicted and convicted over that leak. That does not bode well for Ma.

But then President Ma Ying-jeou, who saw Wang as a rival and underling, and who had beaten Wang in a previous KMT Chairmanship election, completely lost it. He was apparently primarily angry at Wang because Wang would not shove that awful, unpopular services pact with China through the legislature. Wang, the unofficial leader of the Taiwanese KMT, knew that his people in the legislature would never vote for it.

Ma went public with the accusations that Wang had engaged in influence-peddling, saying that he had shamed Taiwan's democracy. He also attempted to have Wang kicked out of the party and removed as speaker. This lead to the situation described in the letter from THRAC, which really did threaten Taiwan's democracy:
By reporting to the president and then releasing the transcript at a press conference — without laying any charges — the SID grossly violated laws requiring nondisclosure of its investigations and has confirmed suspicions that it is a political tool of the KMT. There are also questions about the legality and propriety of the wiretap.


These actions constituted (to use his words) “improper influence at the highest level,” abuse of the office of president and violation of the separation of powers fundamental to a democracy. Ma then acted in his capacity as KMT chairman to have Wang’s party membership suspended and remove him as a legislator-at-large.

This confusion of Ma’s two roles as president and party chairman looks like a return to the old party-state practices of the KMT.

Third, contempt of the legislature. By using an internal KMT party process to remove its speaker, Ma has seriously violated the rights of the legislature. The speaker of the legislature is elected by its members. The legislature oversees the president. Now Ma has used his power as party chairman to become the overseer of the legislature. This has serious implications for KMT proportional vote legislators who must worry about a party chairman who can remove them so easily.
The KMT also had the Ministry of Foreign Affairs describe Wang as a "former speaker" on its website. Wrong.

The crisis devastated the KMT, and even caused the NT to fall in value. It also left Ma's reputation in tatters (fallout described in this post here and here). Ma and Wang went to court over Ma kicking Wang out of the KMT, and was beaten twice -- Eric Chu later dropped the suit to preserve KMT unity.

And it was, by all accounts, totally illegal for Ma to make that information public to attack Wang. Which is how we got to this indictment this week in the "September Strife". Taipei Times reported:
The Taipei District Prosectutors’ Office completed its investigation into the 2013 wiretapping case and alleged that Ma had abused his authority by divulging classified information, as well as breaching the separation of political and judicial powers, Deputy Chief Prosecutor Chang Chieh-chin (張介欽) said.

Chang said Ma has been charged with offenses related to public officials divulging state secrets that are unrelated to national defense, thereby contravening the Criminal Code; public officials divulging classified information obtained in the course of communications surveillance by the authorities, thereby contravening the Communication Security and Surveillance Act (通訊監察保護法); and unauthorized use of private information outside of a public official’s duties, thereby contravening the Personal Information Protection Act (個人資料保護法).

“The defendant called on then-prosecutor-general Huang Shih-ming (黃世銘) to visit the president’s official residence on Aug. 31, 2013, to report on the findings of the wiretapping. This breached the law on the use of personal information obtained under surveillance and the divulging of classified information,” he said. “The defendant instructed Huang, top aide Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強) and then-premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) on Sept. 4, 2013, in talks where classified information relating to the wiretapping case was discussed. This constitutes offenses of inciting others to divulge information obtained during telecommunications surveillance and violations of personal privacy.”
The prosecutor in this case is the same one who went after Ma before for his downloading of government funds into his private accounts. Ma did not dispute that he had done so, but his defense was that the special funds were intended for that purpose. He was found not guilty, of course.

Ma maintains he is innocent. He is facing a rain of lawsuits now that his presidential immunity ended, with Ker Chien-ming's lawsuit against him in its final stages after three years.

I consider it very unlikely he will ever do time. If he gets sentenced, it will be the kind of sentence that can be commuted to a fine.

But it is good to see the system working. All three former democratically elected presidents have been indicted, but the attacks on Chen Shui-bian and Lee Teng-hui were politically motivated. This long running case -- remember, before you claim this is some kind of pan-Green revenge on Ma, that SID Chief Huang was convicted during the Ma Administration -- represents the actual functioning of rule of law as a check on anti-democratic action by the chief executive.

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