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TV pundit found not guilty of libel against President Ma

2015/12/31 21:37:17

CNA file photo

Taipei, Dec. 31 (CNA) A Taipei court on Thursday ruled in favor of TV personality Clara Chou (周玉蔻) in a defamation case brought against her by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) after she alleged publicly that he had accepted NT$200 million in political donations from the ill-reputed Ting Hsin International Group (頂新集團).

Ma will appeal the ruling to defend his name and to "maintain good social mores," a Presidential Office spokesman said.

Ma took legal action against Chou earlier this year after she said in published articles and on numerous TV and radio talk shows that he and his campaign team had received NT$200 million in political donations from Ting Hsin, a business group that has been embroiled in a string of food safety scandals in Taiwan.

Ma filed a criminal suit against Chou on charges of aggravated libel and also brought a civil suit against her, demanding NT$10 million in compensation and an open apology published in major Taiwanese newspapers.

The Taipei District Court, however, ruled Thursday that Chou was not guilty of the charges, saying that she "had good enough reason to believe that her statements were true." The civil suit is still in progress.

In their ruling, the Taipei District Court judges, whose names were not disclosed, said that while Chou's accusation was "a bit too subjective," she was discussing a public issue involving political donations and people's health.

The existing law governing political donations is "simple and rough," which makes it difficult to confirm any illegal acceptance of political donations, the judges said.

They said it would be inappropriate, therefore, for the accused to be asked to prove her statements. It would be better for the court to adopt a "looser standard" and decide whether Chou had good enough reasons to be convinced of the truth of her statements, the judges said.

The business group may have made donations to Ma and his campaign team, the judges said, citing evidence of Ting Hsin group giving political donations to the ruling Kuomintang's regional chapters, and testimony by KMT insiders on different ways of accepting donations.

This does not mean, however, that Ting Hsin indeed made political donations to Ma and his campaign team, the judges said.

Presidential Office spokesman Chen Yi-hsin (陳以信) said the Special Investigation Division under the Supreme Prosecutor's Office had spent six months questioning 100 witnesses and checking 100,000 transaction records of all of the related people, and had concluded that "no illegal actions had taken place."

Ma's attorney Hung Wen-chun (洪文浚) said Chou's accusation was based on a random remark by a former national security official Chang Jung-feng (張榮豐) that Ting Hsin would pay lobby fees of NT$200 million at most. However, Chang himself denied ever telling Chou anything directly about Ting Hsin, the attorney said.

Nonetheless, Chou had went on to fabricate the story of Ma and his campaign team accepting NT$200 million in political donations from Ting Hsin, which evidently was a "malicious attempt" to slander the president and his election campaign, Hung said.

The president "deeply regrets" the district court's ruling in the case and will file an appeal in due course, Hung said.

(By Tsai Pei-chi, Hsieh Chia-chen and S.C. Chang)