Ma Ying-jeou questioned over 'leak' of findings in wiretap case
President had said he was willing to testify about information he received on influence peddling allegations
Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou testified last night over the snowballing wiretapping scandal that has ensnared a top prosecutor in accusations he leaked confidential information to the president during an investigation.
Ma, also chairman of the ruling Kuomintang, was questioned as a witness by prosecutors over his role in the scandal that saw Prosecutor-General Huang Shih-ming accused of illegally leaking information to him about a controversial influence peddling case implicating Wang Jin-pyng, Ma's rival and head of Taiwan's lawmaking body.
"We have contacted the Presidential Office about the availability of the president to testify in the case," said a spokesman for the Taipei District Prosecutors' Office, adding later: "We were told [Ma] was available [last night]". He declined to give more details.
Local television reported that Premier Jiang Yi-huah and Ma's former close aide Lo Chih-chiang were also questioned separately as witnesses while Huang was questioned as a defendant.
On Wednesday, Ma said in a radio interview that he was willing to answer questions from prosecutors. He cannot be charged, given the immunity granted to him as long as he is president. The testimony made him the second president in Taiwan's history to be questioned as a witness by prosecutors.
His predecessor Chen Shui-bian was once questioned by prosecutors over alleged vote-buying involving the Democratic Progressive Party, which he chaired while he was president.
Ma's questioning will only fuel the island's ongoing political crisis, which several KMT lawmakers have said threatens the island's stability and economy. The case has resulted in political deadlock between Ma and Wang .
"Stop the dispute and focus on the economy, because that's what the public wants," KMT legislator Liao Cheng-chin said.
Huang is facing more than 12 lawsuits filed by opposition legislators and local civic groups that have accused him of illegal wiretapping and leaking information about the influence peddling case to Ma before a probe into it was completed.
Huang has been criticised for reporting to Ma on August 31 and September 1 about the investigation before government investigators completed their probe on September 5.
In his report, Huang told Ma that by wiretapping Ker Chien-ming, the DPP's caucus whip, between June and September, he had discovered that Ker allegedly sought help from Wang to pressure a prosecutor into not pursuing an appeal against a high court's not-guilty verdict on a breach of trust case involving Ker.
Huang said this amounted to influence peddling, but because no money was involved and no bribery charge could be made, he reported the case to Ma.
After discussing the case with Jiang - the premier - and his then close aide Lo Chih-chiang on the night of August 31, an indignant Ma held a news conference on September 8, lashing out at Wang for what he believed was obvious influence peddling, though the case had not been brought to court.
On September 11, Ma demanded the disciplinary committee of the Kuomintang revoke Wang's party membership, which could lead to him losing his post as speaker. In response, Wang secured a court injunction to temporarily freeze the KMT's actions to remain as speaker.
His ousting triggered what local media described as "September's political fight" between Ma and Wang, and the crisis escalated further when it was later found that government investigators under the direction of Huang had "accidentally" wiretapped the telephone switchboard of the legislature.
Legal experts and DPP lawmakers also questioned Huang's report to Ma, saying it was a "leak of confidential information".
"What Huang did was illegal because investigations into the controversial influence peddling case only came to an end on September 5, but Huang already leaked the information to Ma as early as August 31," criminal law expert Huang Tung-hsiung said.
Under Taiwanese law, judicial cases still under investigation should be kept confidential, and Huang, despite being the prosecutor-general, was not supposed to reveal the findings early.