TAIPEI - Justice Minister Tseng Yung-fu resigned last night in response to accusations that he had helped prevent an appeal against Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus whip Ker Chien-ming; Tseng, however, insisted on his innocence.
According to the Presidential Office, President Ma Ying-jeou has accepted the minister's resignation.
The Special Investigation Division (SID) yesterday accused Tseng and Taiwan High Prosecutors Office Chief Prosecutor Chen Shou-huang of preventing an appeal against a not guilty verdict handed to Ker earlier this year.
In 2008, Ker was charged with violating the Criminal Code and the Business Entity Accounting Act and was later found guilty. After Ker filed for an appeal, however, the Taiwan High Court overturned the verdict, ruling that he was innocent in June this year.
The SID claims that Ker approached Legislative Yuan Speaker Wang Jin-pyng to make sure that the case was settled once and for all. Wang then allegedly contacted Tseng on Ker's behalf and demanded that prosecutors not file for an appeal.
Chen reportedly pulled rank and "advised" the prosecutor in charge, Lin Hsiu-tao, not to file for an appeal before the court had even handed out its verdict.
The case was settled and Ker was found not guilty; an appeal was also not filed.
The SID said that it has handed the case over to the Control Yuan for further investigation.
In response to the allegations, Tseng held a press conference at noon yesterday and insisted on his innocence, adding that the SID's actions had shocked him.
The minister said that he welcomes a thorough investigation by the Control Yuan, adding that the results of its probe will undoubtedly clear his name.
The Control Yuan itself is currently stuck in a mire over its failure to impeach Keelung Mayor Chang Tung-rung on two separate occasions, prompting widespread calls for reform.
When asked if he would resign, Tseng asked in return, "Why would I resign over something that I didn't do?" However, at a second press conference held later that night, Tseng announced his resignation.
The minister explained that he had decided to resign to prevent the accusations from tarnishing the Justice Ministry's reputation.
Earlier in the day, Premier Jiang Yi-huah said that he was shocked by the accusations and summoned Tseng for a meeting.
Tseng was summoned for a second time by the premier after Jiang had reportedly spoken to the president.
When asked if he was forced to resign by the president or the premier, Tseng said that "forced" would be too strong of a word, and that he would rather not comment on the issue anyway.
DPP Blasts SID, Administration
Ker initially declined to comment on the issue, but later issued a statement accusing President Ma Ying-jeou of orchestrating a political assassination.
Wang's staffers also declined to offer a comment.
The legislative speaker is currently on vacation in Malaysia.
Prosecutor General Huang Shi-ming said that he was deeply pained by the accusations, and that the reputation of the nation's judicial system had been severely damaged.
The DPP caucus blasted the SID for its decision and accused it over stepping over its jurisdiction.
Ma said that he was deeply shocked and pained, adding that he will not allow politicians to interfere with justice, urging the relevant authorities to get to the bottom of the case.