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Taiwan justice chief vows fair trial for indicted ex-president

Kyodo News
January 14, 2009

Taiwan's Justice Minister Wang Ching-feng vowed Wednesday former president Chen Shui-bian, indicted for graft, would receive a fair trial despite a recent video showing what Wang said were justice officials mocking the jailed ex-president in a comic skit portraying his arrest. ''Prosecutors and judges will not be biased in their handling of the former president's case,'' Wang told reporters, adding, ''The process and result of his trial will be open.''

The footage, broadcast by local TV cable news station TVBS, shows a ministry social gathering on Sunday, with prosecutors who were reportedly involved in Chen's case depicting his arrest in a stage play in front of an audience of senior justice officials, including Wang.

The audience can be heard laughing and clapping as the prosecutor playing Chen raises her shackled wrists and yells complaints in a scene recalling Chen's Nov. 12 arrest.

Chen's trial begins Monday. He was indicted Dec. 12 for soliciting bribes, laundering political donations and looting public funds to the tune of tens of millions of U.S. dollars during his 2000-2008 presidential tenure. He stepped down in May last year due to term limits.

Apparent irregularities in Chen's case have cast a spotlight on the island's judiciary, raising doubts he will receive a fair trial. Amid pressure from the ruling Nationalist Party (KMT), the Taipei District Court on Dec. 30 reversed two previous rulings to keep Chen free after the panel of judges overseeing his case was replaced.

The new panel ruled in favor of pre-trial detainment for Chen, who had already spent a month in jail from Nov. 12 to Dec. 12.

In Taiwan, pre-trial detention is allowed for criminal suspects who pose risks of flight or collusion, the grounds for Chen's incarceration. But changing judges midstream in a case is virtually unprecedented, legal experts say. ''The prosecution of former president Chen Shui-bian has not even come to trial. Yet his judges have already bungled the historic opportunity Chen's case presents for the judiciary to confirm its independence, impartiality and competence,'' states Jerome Cohen, a law professor at New York University, in a Jan. 8 editorial in the South China Morning Post.

Cohen, an expert in Chinese law, reportedly mentored Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou while Ma was earning a Ph.D. in law from Harvard University.

Wang admitted in a Taipei press conference the skit depicted Chen's arrest, but dismissed concerns over whether the judiciary lacks the professional ethics and impartiality to fairly try Chen. Besides Wang, many senior judges and other top justice officials were in the audience, local media said.

''It was just a play to help everybody relax. There's no reason to take it too seriously,'' Wang said.

The prosecutors in the play, she added, ''were reflecting public sentiment'' with their performance ''just like movies or Broadway plays.''

She declined to elaborate

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