Lawmakers tussle over bill to retrospectively acquit former president

Taipei, April 21 (CNA) A scuffle broke out among lawmakers in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday as the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) proposed an amendment to retrospectively acquit former President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) bribery charges for abusing a state business fund while in office.

The amendment to Article 99-1 of the accounting law was moved by a vote of the Legislative Assembly’s finance committee to the negotiation stage between the parties, which will take up to a month, before the DPP cannot submit it to a floor vote for a second and third reading.

DPP lawmakers waited outside the conference room where the meeting was held from 8 p.m. Wednesday, in an effort to secure the podium and ensure the proceedings proceeded as planned. However, the main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) deputies arrived at 5 a.m. before the chamber doors opened at 6:30 a.m.

As the doors opened, lawmakers pushed and shoved as they rushed to the podium, with two lawmakers falling to the ground as they fought and another being pulled down as she tried to climb up on the podium.

KMT lawmakers also threw fake banknotes and Sogo department store gift certificates into the air, suggesting that DPP lawmakers also profited from bribes received by Chen.

Amid the melee, Legislative Assembly Finance Committee Chairman Shen Fa-hui (沈發惠) of the DPP called for a roll-call vote that pushed the amendment out of the committee, after the failure of a KMT motion to adjourn the meeting.

If the amendment passes, it could retrospectively exempt him from civil and criminal liability for the alleged misuse of the fund when he was president from 2000 to 2008. Chen was first charged in the case in 2008 , which is currently in its second trial in the Taiwan High Court.

The case is one of multiple corruption scandals in which Chen, 71, became embroiled in after leaving office. He was sentenced to a total of around 20 years in prison in 2010 for accepting bribes in a land deal and other cases.

The former president was jailed as a result, but was medically released in 2015.

Article 99-1 of the accounting law currently provides that actions related to the constitution, management, reimbursement and use of all special allocation funds before December 31, 2006 are exempt from penalty.

The amendment proposed by DPP Legislator Tsai Yi-yu (蔡易餘) seeks to expand the exemption granted under Section 99-1 to include the use of discretionary funds granted by all executive agencies, including public affairs funds available to the president.

Tsai said Article 99-1 was introduced by the KMT in 2011 when it held a majority in the Legislative Assembly, following the Taipei District Court’s 2007 ruling that former President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was not guilty of taking half of an allotted monthly special allowance. to him as mayor of Taipei from 1998 to 2006 for personal use.

“The KMT did not include the state affairs fund in this article to humiliate Chen,” Tsai told reporters.

Since State Affairs Fund and Special Allowance Funds are ‘of the same nature’, it makes perfect sense to decriminalize use of State Affairs Fund, caucus whip says of the DPP, Ke Chien-ming (柯建銘).

KMT caucus whip Tseng Ming-chung (曾銘宗) said prosecutors determined there were irregularities in Chen’s handling of the state affairs fund and that the amendment proposed by the DPP “served the sole purpose of exonerating Chen in the state affairs fund case.”

In the 2008 indictment, prosecutors accused Chen of embezzling a total of NT$104 million ($3.56 million) from the state affairs fund for personal gain.

Chen called a press conference on April 7 to proclaim his innocence on the charge, despite the terms of his medical parole specifically barring him from participating in politics.

At this event, Chen detailed evidence showing 21 payments made from the state affairs fund totaling NT$133 million, far exceeding the NT$104 million he is accused of. abused during his presidency.

Chen said the 21 payments were used to promote confidential diplomatic missions, including paying a US lobbying firm, supporting pro-Taiwan democracy parades, and sponsoring democracy activists and groups, among others.