by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Lord Koxinga/WikiCommons/CC
A CORRUPTION CASE involving a former Supreme Court justice could have large implications, provided that it gains more traction in the news cycle and the current administration is willing to expend political capital on the case. Repeated attempts have been made by members of the Control Yuan, an oversight body which is one of Taiwan’s five branches of government, to highlight the case. The primary Control Yuan members pushing for further attention to the issue is Wang Mei-yu, the former editor-in-chief and president of the China Times, and Kao Yung-cheng, a former lawyer and journalist that has held positions including secretary-general of the Taiwan Bar Association and director of well-respected investigative reporting outlet The Reporter.
Former Supreme Court justice Shih Mu-chin is accused of corruption, insider trading, and failing to disclose conflicts of interest. In particular, Shih is accused of insider trading in LandMark Optoelectronics and RF-Link System, two companies owned by a friend, Weng Mao-chung. Weng is the chair of the Chia Her Group, which primarily operates in the textile industry.
Shih is alleged to have purchased shares in LandMark using his son’s name at 11 NT per share, which were later sold in 2014 at over 300 NT per share, making a profit of 54 million NT. Shih did not recuse himself from cases in which Weng was on trial and provided legal advice to Weng for free.
Weng reportedly sought to curry favor with Shih and other officials by holding expensive banquets and gifting expensive items to judiciary officials, such as dress shirts, in the late 1990s and early 2000s. This took place after a 1995 case in which Weng was involved in litigation with Barclays Bank, with Weng building ties with members of the judiciary to try and influence the outcome of the case in his favor.
Shih was a Supreme Court justice until 2017, after which he served as the secretary-general of the Judicial Yuan’s Commission on the Disciplinary Sanctions of Functionaries. After facing impeachment from the Control Yuan last August, this led to Shih’s resignation from the position. It reflects poorly on issues of corruption in Taiwan that the head of a commission focused on wrongdoing committed by government functionaries and a former justice on Taiwan’s highest court himself faced corruption charges. Shih was the first secretary-general of the commission to resign due to charges of corruption.
But, that being said, part of the reason why public trust in the judicial system in Taiwan is low is because of repeated cases of corruption by judges in Taiwan. Given the high level of corruption that took place during the KMT authoritarian period in Taiwan, this is particularly believed to be the case regarding judges appointed during the KMT’s many years in power. Indeed, advocates of a jury system in Taiwan have stated that the case highlights the need for transitioning to a system that reduces the power of judges.
However, what stands out about the case is the far-reaching implications, seeing as the case involves far more than just Shih. More than 200 officials are accused of being implicated in the case, including three other former Supreme Court justices, Hua Man-tang, Hsieh Chia-ho, and Yen Nan-chuan, a former Supreme Court chief judge, Wu Hsiung-ming, as well as a former Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau Taipei section chief, Chin Tai-sheng. Likewise, former Coast Guard Administration director-general Wang Chung-yi, Kaohsiung City police chief Liu Po-liang, and National Police Agency advisor Chou Yu-wei are accused of being involved in the case. Reportedly, Shih introduced Weng to over hundreds of individuals, including investigators, judges, prosecutors, politicians, members of the police, members of the military, and others, who have now also been implicated in charges of corruption.
Much attention, in particular, has focused on the involvement of former Control Yuan member Fang Wan-fu. Fang, a former prosecutor, recently ended his term as a member of the Control Yuan member in July 2020, and was appointed under the Ma administration. Fang is accused of blocking previous probes into the corruption by Shih, something that Fang has denied, and of also holding stock under his wife’s name in companies owned by Weng. For his part, Fang denied being aware ahead of time that his wife had purchased stock in companies owned by Weng.
It may not also be surprising that, as a KMT appointee, Shih has defended himself by claiming that the charges against him by the Control Yuan are politically motivated. This is a defense that has been used by many judges guilty of corruption who were appointed under the KMT. But, consequently, it is a question to what extent the Tsai administration will want to pursue the case. Even if judicial reform is an imperative of the Tsai administration, the Tsai administration may fear rocking the boat too heavily, in order to avoid appearing as though it is, in fact, persecuting political opponents. As such, it is a question to what extent the case against Shih will gain traction.