In the continuing saga that is Chen Shui Bian’s colorful life, a trial court in Taipei sentenced Chen to life in prison yesterday as the first phase of his dramatic corruption and embezzlement trial came to an end. Chen’s wife, Wu Shu-chen, received a life sentence on corruption charges. Their son and daughter-in-law, convicted of money laundering, received relatively lenient 2 1/2 – and one-year terms.
Chen and his family have been charged with siphoning millions from government funds and for receiving bribes of at least $9 million involving use of Swiss bank accounts to conceal their crimes. Chen and his family were not cooperative throughout most of the trial, but in the end, too many people stepped forward, and too much evidence were offered.
Chen and many of his supporters continue to hold that Chen is innocent and is a victim of political persecution. For more details on this story see this WSJ report, ATimes report, Time report, SF Chronical report.
What is your opinion of the case?
In the view of Chen’s supporters, this nightmarish trial has always been more about political persecution than anything else. The investigation into Chen’s affairs began almost immediately after Ma came to power and Chen left office. Ma’s administration seemed at times too eager to share documents with the prosecution. For most of this past year, Chen has been inexplicably held in jail even when he had had little hope of escaping.
Politics in Taiwan has always involved various forms of gift giving and favor culling. Rules regarding political expense funds and donations were never very clear. Supporters believe that as the former leader of Taiwan, Chen deserves some deference. Chen is the heart and soul of the Taiwanese independence movement. To hold Chen strictly to the law in a court of law under this context is unfair and smack of political sham.
On the other hand, this case can also be viewed as a seminal moment in Chinese history.
Never in a Chinese society has a leader in as high a position as Chen been brought down so low so fast and through purely legal means. Chinese society had always been ruled by fiat. High ranking leaders were considered above normal laws that were intended to have effect only upon the common people.
Has the rule of law in Taiwan finally developed enough teeth to bite even a president? Has democracy – which would just be mob rule without rule of law – been advanced to the next level in Taiwan?
One thing that has impressed me about this case is how relatively independent the judicial process has been allowed to run its course. There has been no evidence that Ma’s administration – or the KMT dominated legislature – exerted any influence on the judicial process. Ma – a lawyer himself – made sure he himself personally stayed away as far away from the trial as possible.
Even if you believe Chen were a sacrificial lamb – i.e. the only thing Chen did wrong was to get caught – is Chen’s sentence such a bad thing in the big scheme of things?
This trial, if nothing else, has the potential to set a precedence and send a strong message to all future Taiwanese politicians that corruption and embezzlement will no longer be tolerated. All leaders who wish to continue to practice corruption will be doing so taking their own chances.
So – is Chen’s trial a political plot orchestrated by the KMT to sabotage future opposition or is it proof that the rule of law has finally come of age in Taiwan?
Has the law in this case been politicized to strike down a political foe or has it been a tool to fight for justice and good governance?
Should leaders like Chen be given presidential deference … perhaps even a pardon – or should leaders like him be treated like any other common citizen and be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law?
Do you think this case will have a positive effect on governance in Taiwan or will it be business as usual – where those in favor or well connected will remain shielded from the law and where only those politically disfavored will be tried?