Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) urged the Council of Grand Justices (CGJ) yesterday to hand down a ruling as soon as possible on whether the ongoing court proceedings in the special "state affairs fund" embezzlement case involving the first lady is constitutional or not.
Lu made the call after a panel of Taipei District Court judges rejected Friday a plea by defense attorneys to suspend the high-profile trial as they determined the proceedings are not unconstitutional as the defense had claimed.
The lawyers of the four defendants in the "state affairs fund" case - first lady Wu Shu-chen (吳淑珍) and three of President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) current and former aides - argued during the first hearing December 15 that presidential immunity granted by the Constitution should be extended to other defendants in the case which also involves the president. Therefore, they demanded an immediate suspension of the trial.
However, presiding judge Tsai Shou-hsiun said at the start of the second day of court proceedings Friday that the trial will not be suspended as it is not in violation of any constitutional provisions.
Vice president's view
Asked about her views on the issue, Lu said district court judges can have their own stances. "Nevertheless, they are not the legitimate interpreter of our Constitution. It's up to grand justices to determine constitutionality issues," she added.
Since scores of lawmakers from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party have requested a ruling on the constitutionality of the case, Lu said it is hoped that the CGJ can hand down a ruling at the earliest possible date.
In her view, Lu said the "state affairs fund" case is in plain violation of Article 52 of the Constitution which states that the president cannot be investigated or prosecuted unless he has betrayed the country.
Asked whether the district court should immediately suspend the trial after the CGJ announces its ruling, Lu refrained from making any comment. She only reiterated her call for an early constitutionality ruling.
Meanwhile, DPP legislative caucus whip Yeh Yi-jin (葉宜津) criticized the district court panel of judges as "having transgressed their jurisdiction" when they claimed that the "state affairs fund" case was not unconstitutional.
"District court judges are not authorized to determine whether a case is constitutional or not; they can only decide whether to seek a constitutionality ruling," Yeh contended.
Judicial Yuan Secretary-General Fan Kuang-chun said Saturday that a special panel composed of three grand justices is still mulling whether to accept the DPP lawmakers' request to impose an injunction on the "state affairs fund" case and a constitutionality ruling with regard to the case.
If the panel accepts the two requests, the district court will have to suspend the trial immediately. If the panel only agrees to the request for a constitutionality ruling while rejecting the injunction request, the district court can continue the trial until a clear-cut "unconstitutionality" ruling is meted out by the CGJ.
Fan didn't confirm an earlier newspaper report that the CGJ is likely to accept the request for a constitutionality ruling.
The wheelchair-bound first lady was indicted November 3 on charges of embezzlement and forgery, as Taipei prosecutors believe Wu used other people's invoices to claim reimbursements from the special "state affairs fund" budgeted for President Chen's discretionary use. Chen was named along with Wu in the case but was not indicted because he is immune from criminal prosecution as head of state.
Wu, who fainted during the first day of court proceedings December 15, was present for the second day's proceedings as she had asked through her lawyers to be absent.
The second day's court proceedings focused on questioning the defendants about their opinions on the reasons presented by prosecutors for their indictment, as well as asking whether they would plead guilty, weighing whether the evidence presented by prosecutors is sufficient, and ascertaining key points of contention in the case.
The court demanded that the Presidential Office present all relevant documents and data to the court by December 27 noon.
The presiding judge also ruled that the third day of proceedings will be held December 29 and asked the lawyers to convey his request for the first lady to appear in court on that day if her health permits.