Former Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou sentenced to 4 months in prison for leaking information

Prosecutors win appeal at Taiwan’s High Court, but Ma could yet be spared prison by paying US$4,000 fine

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 May, 2018, 1:47pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 May, 2018, 11:32pm

Taiwan’s former president Ma Ying-jeou has been sentenced to four months in prison for leaking classified information, in a ruling that could deter other leaders of the self-ruled island from consulting their aides for fear of violating the law, observers said.

A senior member of Taiwan’s embattled opposition party Kuomintang (KMT) – of which Ma was once chairman – described the ruling as a political move by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and urged the public to remember it when voting in the local government elections later in the year.

Taiwan’s High Court on Tuesday found Ma guilty of improperly disclosing, in September 2013, a wiretapped conversation between the former legislative speaker – and Ma’s political rival – Wang Jin-pyng, and the then-opposition DPP’s chief whip Ker Chien-ming to then-cabinet chief Jiang Yi-huah and his top aide, Lo Chih-chiang.

Ker had earlier been acquitted of breach-of-trust allegations, and Ma accused Wang of pressuring prosecutors not to appeal against the decision.

The now-defunct Special Investigation Department, under the Supreme Prosecutors Office, later released a transcript of the telephone conversation, and although neither Wang nor Ker were indicted, Ker sought charges against Ma for the leak.

Ma was tried at a District Court in March last year, but was acquitted.

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In its ruling, however, the High Court said that despite his status as president, Ma should not have leaked the information to Jiang and Lo, and should have remained quiet so as to protect the privacy of others.

“For this we have found Ma guilty of violating the Communication and Surveillance Act,” which restricts civil servants from leaking classified information, the court said, adding that Ma could go to prison for four months or avoid doing by paying a NT$120,000 (US$4,000) fine.

Ma later told a press conference that he would appeal the sentence at the Supreme Court.

“This is something I must do as it concerns the president exercising the rights granted to him by the constitution,” he said.

KMT lawmaker Wang Yu-min said the ruling served only to deprive the president of the power to consult his aides on important issues.

“Isn’t it absurd for a president to be forced to remain quiet, even when he learns of something and needs to consult his aides?” she said, adding that if the ruling were upheld by the Supreme Court, more presidents could face the same fate as Ma.

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Wang Kung-yi, a political-science professor at Chinese Culture University in Taipei, said the ruling was designed to hurt Ma, whose popularity has been rising in the past year because of the lacklustre performance of President Tsai Ing-wen’s government.

“Such a ruling was expected, given that Tsai’s popularity is flagging,” he said.

Tsai’s latest approval rating dipped below 40 per cent, while her disapproval rating was about 60 per cent.

Hau Lung-bin, a former Taipei mayor and KMT vice-chairman, called the ruling politically motivated and urged the people to vote against the DPP at the year-end local government elections.

“Let’s use our votes to teach the DPP a lesson,” he told in a press conference in Taipei.