The Eric Chen Interview
Eric Chen is the prosecutor in the Taiwan state affairs fund embezzlement case. The following is a media interview in which Eric Chen explained the investigation and his thinking in the first person.
(Yazhou Zhoukan (Asia Weekly), November 19, 2006, p.30-31) By Tong Qingfeng (童清峰).
This case was not subjected to any political interference. President Chen did not send someone over to lobby or pressure me. It can even be said that all the interviewees were very cooperative. For example, the National Security Bureau Director and the Foreign Minister were only worried that state secrets might be leaked as a result of this case.
The biggest difficulty in this case is that it involves secret diplomatic missions. I was afraid that the investigation might be contrary to the national interests. When I first began the investigation, I found out that the accusations had some basis. Later on, I discivered that of the six secret diplomatic missions mentioned by President Chen, three of them had nothing to do with the state affairs fund and only two were real: namely, the 'foreign public relations firm' (a subsidiary of Cassidy & Associates) and the aid to 'democracy activists.' There was no need to summon this well-known democracy activist because the money was wired oveseas and the facts are well known and need not be investigated.
All those concerned shoved the responsibility to Misters A (Kung Kin-yuan). For example, Tseng Tien-tsu and Lee Bi-chun testified that Mister A handed in 52 receipts or received 3 payments from the state affairs fund on more than a dozen occasions at various locations in Taipei between mid-December 2003 and April 2005. But we checked the dates on the receipts and we found that most of the time, Mister A was out of Taiwan. This proved that the receipts were false. The investigation ended with a confrontation on October 31. We summoned everybody in and we hinted at what we have found. All of them then admitted that the evidence was false.
The developments on October 31 were very melodramatic. We originally planned to prosecute all those who refuse to confess, because the evidence was too powerful.
On that day, we interviewed four persons. We began in the morning. By the afternoon, the domino effect had taken place as they confessed one after another. One of them confessed only after the other witnesses were brought in for a confrontation. Two of these people are under restrictions not to leave Taiwan. Even another witness who was ready to come forward to offer false evidence also confessed. They thought that it was too suspicious to pin everything on Mister A and so they got a Mister B (the bookseller Wu Wen-ching) to come forth. After the four people broke down, we summoned Mister B to the Corruption Investigation Center of the Supreme Prosecutor's Office and he admitted that he had been ready to provide false evidence.
On the first interview, Chen Shui-bian did not say out the name Kung Kin-yuan. He said that he wanted to protect Mister A. On the second interview on October 27, I asked and the President told me. This was the same name that Tseng Tien-tsu and Li Bi-chun told me. We needed to give these people another chance. By the evening of October 31, we were very confident that the secret diplomatic work of Mister A did not exist. Therefore, there was no need for further verification.
On August 20, the First Lady (Wu Shu-chen) admitted that she had collected department store voucher receipts. In mid-October, I wanted to ask her again, but the President's Office kept delaying on the grounds that her health was poor. On October 27, I was at the President's Office and I asked the President when his wife will be available. He said that it was impossible over the next few days because her health was poor. On October 31, I sent a summons letter to the First Lady and asked for an appointment on the afternoon of November 1. But the President's Office faxed back to say that it was not possible. So we decided that we did not have to talk to her. Defendants have the right to remain silent.
The principal sources of the receipts were Tsai Mei-li (a university classmate of Wu Shu-chen) and Lee Bi-chun (through Lee Bi-chun herself, her cousin Ligi Lee and her chauffeur). Tsai Mei-li provided the largest number of receipts. Lee Bi-chun came later in the process (after October 2003). But the facts were very clear and it did not matter if the First Lady was not interviewed. We had already interviewed that people who collected the receipts for her. Lee Bi-chun brought in more than NT$5 million that she pinned on Mister A. Later on she admitted that she took her receipts to the First Lady. Mrs. Lo (the former office manager at the Presidential Office and a good friend of the First Lady) also provided receipts. She used cash to purchase gift vouchers at department stores. They all admitted that. Therefore we felt that there was no need to ask the First Lady. If everybody said that they put the receipts in envelops and handed them to the First Lady, we believed that she must have received them.
The First Lady purchased many items. The most expensive one is a diamond ring that cost over NT$1.3 million. We confirmed that it was for her own use. For the diamond ring, she requested NT$270,000 in payment from the state affairs fund. We were very careful in handling this case. If the First Lady bought a pair of shoes, we asked whether she tried them on; if she bought a ring, we asked whether her measurements were taken.
The First Family members Chen Hsin-yu, Chao Chien-ming and Chen Chih-chong used credit cards to pay for purchases and then used the receipts to claim state affairs fund. They said that they were purchasing stuff on behalf of the First Lday, or else dining with guests. But they cannot name the other parties. They could not explain or else they just said that the other diners were friends but they could not remember whom or when.
The receipts that were reimbursed contained all types of expenditures. There were receipts for infant products. They said that the First Lady asked them to buy as presents for others, whom they could not name. So we decided not to believe them.
I think their situation is understandable. Perhaps they left their receipts around their home and someone took them without telling them. So they ended up being defensive, because they didn't even understand what was happening. So the media should have mercy on them!
At the October 27 interview, the President spoke about three secret diplomatic missions which came from "the NT$3.2 million of Tseng Tien-tsu." If what he said is true, then the money came from himself. He wanted to use this method to cover up how the First Lady used other people's receipts to claim from the state affairs fund.
During my two interviews with the President, there was no lawyer present. I told him, "You may be involved in the crime of XX." But the President did not bring a lawyer on the two occasions.
From 9pm on October 27 to past 1am, there was no small talk. The President told me how hard it was to do foreign diplomacy. He worked hard and could not possibly be corrupt. He admitted that he asked his wife to collect receipts. The Fengtien Committee had been eliminated and he had no budget. Therefore he asked his wife to collect receipts.
It was a tough challenge to handle this case. There was nothing earth-shaking because some battles do not require tanks and cannons. It is better to use the evidence to get them to speak the honest truth. We know that this case did not require detention or searches. In this battle, we were like paratroopers digging foxholes with round shovels. We consolidated our position without using cannons and machine guns.
This indictment is unrelated to the mass movement or the blue/green relationship. I paid attention only to the the kinds of evidence that judges will accept. When we handle such cases, we are usually drafting the case outline as we work. We did not complete our indictment document until the night of November 2. At that time, certain receipts have not been thoroughly followed through. But we decided to act quickly in view of the social instability. Getting more receipts will not mean much more at this time.
I am "deep green." In 1976 when Taiwan dissident Kuo Yu-shin left, you can check the photograph of the people seeing him off at the airport. The thin bespectacled person next to Wu Nai-yan was me. I was deeply involved in those opposition activities. I was involved in the opposition movement before Chen Shui-bian, who joined only after the Formosa magazine affair. I handled this case and I got such an outcome. I feel bad. My mom is feeling bad as well. She is also "deep green." She studied in Japan and she wants the Taiwanese to be their own masters. But the result was ... there had to be some emotions.
I often had to work through the night for this case. This is how I always dealt with such cases. It was the same thing with the "Condor" case. But the young prosecutors nowadays do not have that kind of enthusiasm. They go home before they finish their work.
I should mention that the President really did not have any special funds and therefore he had to use the state affairs funds as special funds. After finishing this case, I hope this is the end of the nightmare and not the start of the nightmare. The media pressure was the toughest part for me. I hope that I won't run into any reporters this week. I would be very lucky if that happens.