by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: 寺人孟子/WikiCommons/CC
A FORMER TAIWAN High Court judge has been impeached on conflict of interest charges in a case that points to a larger, structural issue in Taiwan. In particular, former judge Tseng Ping-shan faces impeachment due to contacts with Wong Maw-jang over a twenty-year period from 1997 to 2017, Wong being the chair of the Chia Her Group. Tseng served on the Taiwan High Court’s Tainan branch between 1997 and 2013.
Tseng is accused of accepting gifts from Wong and providing him legal advice about cases he was involved in, though Tseng did not oversee the case. Likewise, Tseng owned stocks in the Chia Yuen Real Estate Development Company from 1995 to 1998, Chia Yuen being a Chia Her subsidiary.
WIth Tseng now facing charges, this will be overseen by the Disciplinary Court. What proves significant about the case, however, is that charges against Tseng emerged in the course of the investigation against former Supreme Court justice Shih Mu-chin, who was impeached in January 2021 but not found guilty of corruption.
Shih is the highest judicial official to face impeachment in the history of Taiwan. Charges against Shih also involved Wong, seeing as Shih was accused of insider trading in LandMark Optoelectronics and RF-Link System, two companies owned by Weng. Shih was 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. To this extent, Shih did not recuse himself from cases in which Wong was on trial and, much like Tseng, provided legal advice to Wong.
More broadly, Wong began ingratiating himself with judiciary officials after becoming embroiled in a legal dispute with Barclays Bank in 1995, holding lavish banquets for them and making expensive gifts of shirts and other items to them.
The Shih case was seen as reflecting broader issues regarding corruption, seeing as after the end of his term as Supreme Court justice in 2017, Shih served on Judicial Yuan’s Commission on the Disciplinary Sanctions of Functionaries as secretary-general. It generally does not reflect well on judicial institutions in Taiwan that the head of a body specifically devoted to targeting wrongdoing by government officials was himself found guilty of corruption. Shih was the first secretary-general of the commission to resign due to charges of corruption, resigning in August 2020.
Generally speaking, there is low trust in the judicial system in Taiwan. This returns to frequent corruption cases among judicial offices in Taiwan, particularly dating back to the authoritarian era, in which the KMT’s governance was broadly viewed as corrupt and the judicial brand was no exception.
There continues to be public concern about judges appointed during the period of KMT rule, or who rose up through the ranks of the judiciary during this period. Apart from cases of corruption, so-called “dinosaur judges” are accused of making judgments based on outmoded social values, or to defend fellow members of the pan-Blue camp. It may not be surprising, then, that part of the push for transitioning to a jury-based trial system rather than one in which judges make decisions is due to the belief that this can limit the power of judges.
The probe into wrongdoing by Shih came from a Control Yuan probe, but former Control Yuan member Fang Wan-fu was accused of blocking the probe. Shih reportedly introduced Wong to hundreds of individuals, including members of the judiciary, police, and other government officials, as a result of which other involved individuals include 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, former Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau Taipei section chief, Chin Tai-sheng, former Coast Guard Administration director-general Wang Chung-yi, Kaohsiung City police chief Liu Po-liang, and National Police Agency advisor Chou Yu-wei were accused of being involved in the case. Over two hundred were thought to be implicated, though the current status of such investigations is still unknown.
Tseng Ping-shan’s impeachment, then, may simply be an aftershock of the Shih case. Nonetheless, as with the Shih case, it remains to be seen whether there can be a push for clearing up corruption from Taiwan’s judiciary.