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Justice minister steps down amid controversy (update)

2013/09/06 22:56:37

Taipei, Sept. 6 (CNA) Justice Minister Tseng Yung-fu resigned Friday, hours after being accused of influence peddling by prosecutors in a special investigation unit.

Tseng announced his resignation at a hastily arranged press conference late Friday, saying he was stepping down to avoid putting his superiors and his ministry in a difficult situation.

He made the announcement after meeting with Premier Jiang Yi-huah for a second time on Friday to discuss the matter.

At the press conference, Tseng denied any wrongdoing or having intervened in a legal case in which Ker Chien-ming, a prominent opposition lawmaker, was the defendant.

On Friday morning, the Special Investigation Division (SID) under the Supreme Prosecutors Office alleged that Tseng and Chen Shou-huang, head of the Taiwan High Prosecutors Office, used their influence to stop a prosecutor from appealing Ker's not-guilty verdict in a breach of trust case.

Tseng and Chen applied pressure on the prosecutor after being asked to intervene by Wang Jin-pyng, president of the Legislative Yuan, according to the SID, which released a transcript of telephone conversations between Wang and Ker.

In an afternoon press conference, Tseng countered by claiming the accusation was part of a vendetta initiated by Prosecutor-General Huang Shih-ming, who is responsible for naming the prosecutors serving in the special investigation unit.

Tseng said at the time that he would not resign since he had done nothing wrong.

Shortly after his second press conference, the Executive Yuan announced that the premier accepted Tseng's resignation and appointed Deputy Justice Minister Chen Ming-tang as the acting minister.

Tseng offered his resignation to "defend his good reputation" and to avoid any possible influence on the investigation that is due to begin, the Executive Yuan said in a statement.

In making the accusation, the SID referred the case to the Control Yuan for investigation. No legal action will be taken against Tseng or Chen as there was no indication that they received any personal benefit from Ker or Wang.

If the Control Yuan finds that Tseng did intervene, it could lead to administrative sanctions.

Huang issued a statement late Friday, calling for the debate to focus on whether or not pressure was applied on the prosecutor who handled Ker's case instead of on the claim of a vendetta brought on by personal grudges.

Earlier, a presidential spokesperson said Huang briefed both President Ma Ying-jeou and the premier before calling the press conference.

Ma was "shocked and appalled" by the allegations and has asked relevant agencies to conduct a thorough investigation, said Presidential Office spokeswoman Garfie Li.

The president would not countenance political intervention in any legal cases, she said.

For his part, Chen said he was "shocked" by Tseng's resignation while insisting on his own innocence.

Chen will be subject to an administrative evaluation. He said he would step down if found guilty of any wrongdoing.

(By Tsai Pei-chi, Hsieh Chia-chen and Jay Chen)