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Court begins hearing on Wu's appeal

Court begins hearing on Wu's appeal

The Administrative Court yesterday began hearing an appeal by Taitung County magistrate-elect Wu Chun-li (吳俊立) to challenge an interior ministry order suspending him from his post on grounds of a previous conviction for corruption.

Wu, a former speaker of the Taitung County Council, was elected magistrate of Taitung County after he withdrew from the opposition Kuomintang to run in the December 3 local elections as independent candidate.

Wu did not win the KMT's nomination for the magistrate election because he had been sentenced to 16 years in prison and deprived of his political rights for eight years on corruption charges. Wu has since appealed to the Supreme Court for a retrial of the case.

However, one day after Wu took the oath of office on December 20, the interior ministry issued an order for him to be relived of his duties, under Article 78 of the Local Government Law.

Wu told the Administrative Court that before he decided to run for the local government post, he had confirmed with the Central Election Commission that Article 78 of the Local Government Law would not apply in his case.

Wu claimed that he had a contract with the citizens of Taitung and that the interior ministry's action had damaged his and his constituents' dignity. He added that he believes in the fairness of the Constitution.

"That is why I filed this complaint in the Administrative Court," he said.

However, it was precisely the same article that the interior ministry cited in its bid to stop him from taking office after his December 3 election victory.

Liu Wen-shih, executive secretary on the Interior Ministry's Law and Regulations Committee, said his ministry was acting in accordance with the law, which bans anyone who has been convicted on corruption charges from taking office as a local government leader.

Liu said the court ruling indicated that Wu had "moral and ethical" problems, and to ensure administrative integrity, the ministry had suspended him from the post of Taitung magistrate. He stressed that the interior ministry's move was "legal, just and necessary."

Wu's attorney, Yang Cheng-hsien, argued that Article 78 should not have applied in Wu's case, as he was not a magistrate when he was convicted on charges of profiteering on public construction projects while he served on the county council.

As a matter of fact, Yang said, the Interior Ministry broke the law when it "expanded" its interpretation of Article 78, which targets incumbent magistrates or mayors. When Wu was sentenced for profiteering, he was not a magistrate or a mayor, Yang reiterated.

Yang said the Interior Ministry should have issued the order while Wu was a county council member, not after he assumed the post of magistrate. Yang specifically pointed to the wording in Article 78, saying that there is no use of the phrase "who has ever been convicted," which indicates that the law does not target persons who may have broken the law outside the office of magistrate or a mayor.

Tsai Hsien-liang, who was hired to defend the interior ministry's action, argued that the ministry had the authority to suspend Wu from his duties after he was sworn in as the magistrate. The interior ministry is obliged by law to issue another order to suspend Wu, even if he wins this lawsuit, Tsai said.

As the case could drag on until Wu's term of office expires in four years time, the presiding judge asked both sides to present additional evidence to support their respective interpretations of Article 78 of the Local Government Law, by next Wednesday.