Monday, September 14, 2009

The never ending story of Taiwan's Chen Shui Bian

Taiwan’s first opposition leader to be elected president, Chen Shui-bian, has just become the first to be convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for graft, corruption, embezzlement, money laundering and perjury.

His wife, Wu Shu-chen was also sentenced to jail for the rest of her life on similar charges. According to the prosecution, she knew more about money laundering than most drug cartels. Under her management, illicit funds were routinely moved up to 20 times to disguise the origin.

Many observers of Taiwan are surprised that Chen has come so far in this debacle. Most expected Chen and his family to have long flown the coop for safe havens where millions in cache are waiting for him.

Shih Ming-teh can only express sorrow over the outcome that has befallen his friend and former comrade-in-arms. Shih was one time leader of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) who spent 25 years in jail under the Kuomingtang regime. He was one of Chen’s early supporters when Chen first ran for presidency in 2000.

In 2006, Shih launched a massive protest against Chen’s blatant misconduct. Over 200,000 people in Taipei held a candle light vigil outside of the presidential palace demanding that Chen resign from office. Instead, Chen withstood the public’s withering voice of disapproval and stayed in office until the end of his term in 2008.

After the court’s decision of life imprisonment was handed down on September 11, Shih publicly expressed regret that Chen did not step down when he had the chance. Had he resigned under public pressure, Chen could have quietly left Taiwan and all the sordid details would not need to see the light of day and thus save Taiwan from having to contend with the embarrassing blot in its young venture into democracy.

Perhaps it was hubris that caused Chen and his first family not to take their ill gotten gains and run. He probably did not expect to be held in detention once he was arrested—ironically, on the grounds of flight risk—so that leaving Taiwan under the cover of darkness was no longer an option.

Instead Chen devoted his time in jail to making a mockery of Taiwan’s judiciary system. He went on periodic but highly publicized hunger strikes. He wrote books proclaiming his innocence. He and his wife selectively came up with reasons not to appear in court to disrupt proceedings whenever possible. He found fault with his attorneys and lambasted the judges.

Chen disowned any knowledge of the irregular financial dealings but accepted responsibility for not keeping track of what his family did.

Most incredulous of all, Chen proclaimed that he was railroaded by the long arms of Beijing complicit with the KMT as a pay-back for his pro independence stance while in office. He provided no evidence to support his contention. Instead his faithful long-time assistant gave chapter and verse on how he and the first family arm twisted Taiwan’s scions for millions and squeezed nickels and dimes out of every falsified expense receipt.

When Lee Teng-hui, the first native born Taiwanese to become president, came to the end of his term of office, he engineered a split among the KMT which enabled Chen to win his first term with less than 40% of the votes cast. Chen then won a squeaker of re-election with the help of a miraculous assassination attempt on election eve. The home made bullet grazed his stomach but more importantly netted enough sympathy votes to put him over the top.

By the second term, it was obvious to Lee that Chen was more interested in adding to his personal wealth than in governance of Taiwan. Although both men shared the same desire of separating Taiwan from China, Lee publicly criticized the “son of Taiwan” as the “shame of Taiwan.”

The sentence of life imprisonment is, of course, not the end of the story on Chen and the former first family. His case will be contested in successive courts of justice until it reaches Taiwan's highest court. A drawn out process could take the next 5 years and Chen’s misdeeds will be on display repeatedly before the people of Taiwan. Like fermented tofu, the salacious details are likely to ripen with further investigation and as more are willing to come forward to testify.

Chen began his presidency pledging clean government. Instead, everything was for sale--including another star for generals desiring a promotion. As his case, including new charges still pending, winds through Taiwan’s judiciary system, Taiwan will be reminded of his misconduct and his family’s involvement for years to come.

DPP, Chen’s old party, is in a quandary. A small but vocal group continues to insist on Chen’s innocence, convictions notwithstanding. Their defense of Chen is to attack the legitimacy of Taiwan’s rule of law and cast suspicion by accusing the current government of collusion with the mainland. Unable to unite in face of these noisy demonstrations, DPP is in disarray. The challenge for the people of Taiwan is to keep the disarray contained and not spread and infect the entire island.
Read a polished version in New America Media.

1 comment:

SC said...

Chen Shui-bian is such a clown. In his numerous efforts to divert public’s attention away from his case, he has accused the former president Lee Teng-hui of corruption, and current president Ma Ying-jeou of having sex with another man. Now he is trying to drag Obama into the mess. Unbelievable!