Charges likely over abuse of Chen fund

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 September, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 September, 2006, 12:00am

Prosecutors warn Taiwanese president before questioning him, wife on receipts

Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian was questioned last month over embezzlement allegations and told the investigation would 'very likely' result in fraud charges, prosecutors said yesterday.

Mr Chen was asked whether he wanted a lawyer present and he declined, said Chang Wen-cheng, spokesman for the Taiwan High Court Prosecutors' Office.

The president's wife, Wu Shu-chen, was also questioned at the presidential residence on August 20 over allegations some receipts used to account for NT$36 million (HK$8.5 million) in state funds came from her, judicial sources said.

'In questioning the president and his wife, we informed them [the case] very likely would involve forgery or corruption charges and asked whether [they] needed a lawyer to represent them. They both said there was no need,' Mr Chang said.

The Presidential Office yesterday confirmed Mr Chen was questioned on August 7 but denied the money was spent illegally.

Mr Chen is under increasing pressure to step down over corruption allegations tied to his office and family. Opposition figures accuse him of wrongly using receipts to account for how part of Taiwan's Special State Affairs Fund was spent. The fund is divided into secret diplomatic spending, which does not require receipts, and special funding. The law states the president must provide receipts for funds that come out of the special pool.

Mr Chen admitted on Tuesday during a visit to Palau that his office had wrongly used receipts to account for part of the spending.

He said there was not enough funding for secret diplomatic missions so he had to draw money from the special pool.

Mr Chang stressed prosecutors did not question the presidential couple as 'defendants or suspects'.

'They are just key figures' related to the case, he said, adding no decision had been made on whether they would be questioned a second time.

He stressed that further investigations were needed to confirm whether there were irregularities in the spending.

Wei Chien-feng, a lawyer and veteran member of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, said even if the funds were used for state purposes, Mr Chen broke the law by handing in the wrong receipts.

If the money went into private pockets, it was an act of embezzlement, said Mr Wei, who joined former DPP chairman Shih Ming-teh in a campaign to depose Mr Chen for alleged corruption.

Local lawyers said that even if Mr Chen was guilty, the constitution grants sitting presidents immunity from criminal prosecution.

They said any criminal charges against a president would only be possible after he stepped down. Both Mr Chen and Ms Wu have insisted they are innocent.

Ms Wu, who came down with the flu on Tuesday, remained in hospital yesterday.

Following the money

Special State Affairs Fund for president's spending is about NT$50 million a year, split into secret diplomatic funding which doesn't require receipts, and special funding which does.

A Ministry of Audit investigation shows NT$24.07 million in claims did not have receipts and NT$12.77 million spent on special funding was not detailed.