Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Chen Shui Bian's latest gambit

Certainly we can hardly accuse convicted felon and Taiwan's former president, Chen Shui-bian, for lack of imagination. His latest gambit for getting out of jail is to sue the United States and as part of the lawsuit, he has generously offered to come to Washington to testify on his own behalf--presumably at his own expense.

One can no doubt read about the basis of his suit in a number of places. SCMP is but one of them.

As one analysis from Taiwan pointed out the obvious,

What President Chen wants is to create a smokescreen under which he can get out of Tucheng, where he has been held since December 30 last year.

In another story,
Tsai Ing-wen, chairwoman of the Democratic Progressive Party, said: "The DPP demands that the ex-president is swiftly released so that he is able to defend himself freely."

I met Ms. Tsai in 2001 as a member of the Committee of 100 delegation. At the time, she was a member of Chen's cabinet in charge of the cross straits relations. Chen was still in his "four no's and one don't have" mode and his true colors about Taiwan and China were still well hidden from view.

Educated in the U.S. and U.K., Tsai came across as a highly intelligent woman, all the more puzzling to us then as to why she was so thickheaded over any interest in warming the relations with the mainland, which ostensibly was her portfolio.

In retrospect, of course, it was obvious that she was following her boss' orders. But today she is the head of DPP and Chen has been drummed out of the party upon his conviction. Tsai has ample justification to distant herself and her party from Chen and thus disavow any connection to the corrupt practices of Chen's regime.

Why Tsai would continue to come to Chen's defense is open to speculation. A PhD recipient from London School of Economics, she surely has to appreciate the economic basket case that Taiwan became because of Chen's malfeasance. Surely it could not be admiration as cause of her continued loyalty.

Is it her desire not to offend the small group of Chen's adherents who continue to protest his innocence? Is it, heavens forbid, some linkage from Chen's hidden millions and to possible future financing of DPP activities? Perhaps time will tell us.

Chen desperately wanted to be out of jail. In order to help his own defense, he claimed. But while in jail, he had done all he can to impede his own attorney preparation of his defense. Realizing that he had no legitimate defense, it seemed his gambit then was to be as theatrically ludicrous as possible. Filing a lawsuit against the United States is his latest attempt along these lines.

In the meantime, prosecution is continuing to press new charges on Chen. This circus is not going to fold its big tent for years to come.

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.