Ex-President Ma found guilty in information leakage case

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Former President Ma Ying-jeou (NOWnew file photo)

Taipei, May 15 (CNA) Former President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has been found guilty of leaking classified information and sentenced to four months in prison by the Taiwan High Court, in a ruling that reversed a not-guilty verdict handed down by a lower court.

The Taiwan High Court on Tuesday found Ma guilty of leaking classified information related to the investigation of an opposition lawmaker while the probe was in progress in September 2013.

The sentence can be commuted to a fine. The case can still be appealed.

After learning of the ruling, Hsu Chiao-hsin (徐巧芯), a spokesperson with the former president’s office, expressed regret over the High Court’s decision and said Ma will appeal the verdict.

The case goes back to September 2013 when it was disclosed that then-State Prosecutor-General Huang Shyh-ming (黃世銘) showed Ma a transcript of wiretapped conversations that were part of evidence collected in an ongoing investigation of alleged breach of trust by senior Democratic Progressive Party lawmaker Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘).

In the taped conversations, then Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) and Ker were heard talking about lobbying two senior justice officials, including the minister of justice, to prevent any appeal of the breach of trust case in which Ker had first been found guilty and then acquitted on appeal.

According to prosecutors, Ma leaked the contents of the recording, Ker’s personal information and other information related to the ongoing investigation to then Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) and then Presidential Office Deputy Secretary General Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強).

They also indicted him for instructing Huang to leak the confidential information to Jiang.

Huang was convicted in February 2015 of violating the Communication Security and Surveillance Act and was sentenced to 15 months in prison, commutable to a fine of NT$457,000 (US$14,751), which he has since paid.

Ma was president at the time and therefore had immunity from criminal prosecution but he was summoned as a potential defendant in the case for the first time on Dec. 1, 2016, after leaving office in May.

The Taipei District Court found Ma not guilty of the two charges on Aug. 25, 2017, after which prosecutors appealed.

The district court ruled at that time that while Ma divulged classified information, he was within his rights to do so based on Article 44 of the Constitution, under which the president has the right to handle a dispute between two or more of the five government branches (Yuan).

The district court said Ma was talking with heads of the concerned parties to work out a solution in accordance with the law.

On Tuesday, however, the High Court panel of judges said there was clear evidence that Ma had leaked confidential information pertaining to the case to Jiang and Lo.

It ruled that Ma was not entitled to do so because he was not exercising his executive power under the Constitution, as the case was unrelated to disputes involving two or more Yuan.

The High Court did uphold the lower court’s ruling, however, in finding Ma not guilty of instructing Huang to disclose the details of the ongoing investigation on Ker to Jiang.

In taking issue with the guilty verdict, Ma’s spokesperson Hsu said Ma was doing what he should have done at that time by discussing with Jiang and Lo on how to respond to a potential constitutional crisis.

Lee Ming-hsien (李明賢), a spokesman with Ma’s party, the Kuomintang, described the ruling as not convincing and said the party supported Ma in filing an appeal to protect his integrity.

Meanwhile, former Legislative Speaker Wang expressed respect for the judicial process, while Ker lamented what he felt was too lenient a sentence for Ma.

(By Wang Yang-yu, Hsiao Po-wen, Y.F. Low and Evelyn Kao)