Chen asks judges to stop wife's trial
Lawrence Chung in Taipei
Aide says president is named as 'joint perpetrator' and should enjoy immunity
Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian has petitioned a group of senior judges to halt his wife's corruption trial, despite his earlier vow to resign if she is found guilty.
A top Chen aide filed the petition on his behalf yesterday, asking the Judicial Yuan to order the Taipei District Court to stop proceedings against Wu Shu-chen because the president was named as a 'joint perpetrator'.
'The president should enjoy the privilege of refusing to provide the court with information on defence, diplomatic affairs and state secrets,' said Cho Jung-tai, deputy secretary-general of the Presidential Office. He said there was a need to clarify whether Article 52 of the constitution granted the president immunity from prosecution permanently or procedurally.
Mr Cho said it was questionable of prosecutors to list the president as a joint perpetrator alongside his wife and indict the first lady because it violated the constitution, which granted the president immunity from prosecution.
On November 3, prosecutors charged Wu with embezzling NT$14.8 million (HK$3.5 million) by using receipts provided by others to account for spent 'state affairs funds' between 2002 and last year. They also said they would indict Mr Chen, but would wait until his four-year term ended in May next year.
Prosecutors said Mr Chen had used some of the funds to buy a diamond ring for his wife. The special fund is used partly to finance secret diplomatic missions.
Since the indictment, however, presidential officials and the first family's defence lawyers have repeatedly said the evidence presented by prosecutors was obtained through unconstitutional means and could not be used to indict Wu. They said it was a violation of the constitution for the prosecutors to question Mr Chen, especially when the questioning involved state and diplomatic secrets.
Mr Cho asked the Council of Grand Justices for an interpretation of the constitution to clarify the dispute surrounding the case.
He also asked that Wu's trial be suspended on grounds that it could result in a leak of state secrets, especially after the court opened files on six 'secret diplomatic missions' Mr Chen had cited as a proof of the flow of funds. Some of the missions had been regarded as bogus by the prosecutors.
To try to prove that none of the money went into his own pocket, Mr Chen vowed soon after the indictment in November that he would step down if his wife was found guilty after her first trial.
His pledge won applause from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and his supporters. It also helped cushion his tumbling popularity, which had plunged to 11 per cent, and head off mounting pressure for him to resign over a string of corruption scandals linked to the president, his family and the government.
Since the trial began last month, the first lady, paralysed from the waist down, has only appeared in court once, blaming her poor health.
The Presidential Office has also ignored the court's requests for receipts and other documents for court screening.
The Taipei District Court has fined five presidential officials NT$30,000 each for failing to testify as witnesses.
Meanwhile, the Council of Grand Justices rejected a separate petition filed by 84 DPP legislators last month for a constitutional interpretation regarding presidential immunity, saying the request did not comply with normal procedures for such an interpretation.