The controversy surrounding newly elected Taitung County Magistrate Wu Chun-li took some new twists yesterday with Wu naming his "ex-wife" Kuang Li-chen as vice magistrate, even as he was being suspended from his post immediately after he was sworn in.
Wu, who won the seat in the December 3 election under the cloud of a conviction for involvement in corruption, said yesterday that he had divorced his wife on Monday, in what was seen as ploy to sidestep a law that would have prevented him from naming his spouse as his deputy.
The Ministry of Interior however stressed that Wu has been suspended from his post and therefore has no power to appoint or remove any officials in the county government.
But Wu said that he had not received any official notice of suspension following his inauguration which meant that legally he was still the county's magistrate.
Nonetheless, the Cabinet has appointed the secretary-general of Taitung County Government to serve as acting magistrate so that business can go on as usual, Cabinet Secretary-general Cho Jung-tai (卓榮泰) said Monday.
Lai Shun-hsien will take Wu's place until a new magistrate is elected via a by-election, Cho said. Wu was suspended because of his involvement in a corruption scandal when he was deputy speaker of the Taitung County Council. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison in the first trial in 2002, and was commuted to seven years in the second trial. Wu appealed and the Supreme Court overturned the verdict of the second trial and return the case for a retrial.
During the yesterday's inauguration ceremony, after Wu was sworn in and before he received the seal of office, one of his supporters suddenly grabbed the microphone and announced that Wu would appoint a new vice magistrate.
The chairman of the ceremony, Walis Pelin (瓦歷斯貝林), who is also chairman of the Indigenous Peoples Council, tried to stop Wu from making the announcement but the magistrate's supporters broke into an uproar and Wu declared that he was appointing Kuang as vice magistrate with immediate effect.
Under the law, magistrates are prohibited from appointing relatives, including spouses, parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, as vice magistrates.
However, Wu reportedly obtained a divorce from Kuang on Monday afternoon in order to make her eligible for appointment as vice magistrate.
The law also stipulates that if a magistrate is suspended for corruption, the vice magistrate would serve as acting
magistrate until a new magistrate is elected or the incumbent magistrate is proven innocent. If there is no vice magistrate or if the vice magistrate cannot serve as magistrate, the MOI could appoint an acting magistrate, according to the law.
MOI Civil Affairs Chairman Huang Li-sin said that Wu had no authority to make the vice-magistrate appointment because he was suspended from his post immediately after he was inaugurated and, in any case, had not been formally been handed the seal of office.
During yesterday's chaotic ceremony, Wu asked for the seal of office while Walis Pelin was making the announcement that he had been suspended, but Walis Pelin ignored the demand and declared the ceremony at an end.
Wu can return to his post if and when a higher court acquits him, MOI officials have said, but it is not known when the appeal court will hand down a verdict.
According to the MOI, the law allows for Wu to compete in the by-election for Taitung County magistrate, if he resigns his current commission. Under such circumstances, if he wins the by-election, he would not be suspended, the MOI said. However, if the appeal court upholds the guilty verdict against him, Wu would be relieved of the post, the MOI stressed.
Wu however said that he would resign only if the people, who elected him, ask him to do so.
Lai said that the Premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) informed him Monday night that he was appointed as acting Taitung County magistrate, but he noted that had not to date received any official notification of the appointment.
Lai said that the Taitung County Government was currently maintaining the status quo and that as soon as he was officially appointed, he would begin his the task of governing the county.
He further gave the assurance that he is capable of handling the job.