The highest auditory agency in Taiwan, the Control Yuan, found him guilty of multiple violations of law in the Tai Ji Men case. Yet, he has never been sanctioned.

by Massimo Introvigne

An article already published in Bitter Winter on March 31st, 2021.

Prosecutor Hou (from Weibo)
Prosecutor Hou (from Weibo).

Those familiar with Bitter Winter’s numerous articles about the Tai Ji Men tax case in Taiwan have already met Prosecutor Hou Kuan-jen.

In November 1996, during the politically motivated crackdown on religious and spiritual movements, the Prosecutors’ Offices of Kaohsiung District and the Hsinchu District had already investigated the accusations against Tai Ji Men but had not found any violation of the law. As a result, they had closed the case. However, on December 19, 1996, Prosecutor Hou Kuan-jen of the Taipei District Prosecutors Office ignored his colleagues’ conclusions, and began his own investigation. That day, Hou commanded hundreds of armed policemen and investigators to raid and search 19 properties, including Tai Ji Men’s facilities and dizi (disciples) residences in different parts of Taiwan. He was accompanied by journalists, press photographers, and media camera crews on this operation. Hou became quite popular with the media, and enjoyed the spotlight. It was a mutually beneficial relationship, and he was nicknamed the “Judicial Rambo.”

Hong, the leader of Tai Ji Men, was still being interrogated when the CTV channel, one of the three major TV channels at the time, was already announcing a breaking story that Tai Ji Men’s leader was accused of fraud. On December 20, the leader of Tai Ji Men, Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, was arrested. His wife and two dizi were arrested on December 23 and 24. Dr. and Mrs. Hong’s assets, including private holdings not connected with Tai Ji Men, were frozen by Hou. Dr. Hong was detained by Hou for 121 days, while Hou accused him, absurdly, of “raising goblins,” and called for the establishment of a false association of “victims of Tai Ji Men” to support his charges. In 1997, Hou also tried to “order” (illegally) the dissolution of Tai Ji Men and called for the termination of water and electricity supply to Tai Ji Men facilities in Taipei.

All this was constantly accompanied by intimidation of defendants and witnesses, and a flow of propaganda against Tai Ji Men disseminated to the media, leading to numerous untrue news reports about Tai Ji Men. While the case was still under investigation, Hou made consistent moves to persecute Tai Ji Men, obviously overstepping his authority as a prosecutor.

Eventually, Hou lost all his cases against Tai Ji Men. All the defendants were acquitted, up to the Supreme Court (Criminal Division) of Taiwan, and the defendants who were detained received national compensation for the wrongful detention. However, the National Tax Bureau issued tax bills to Tai Ji Men simply based on the criminal indictment without conducting a thorough investigation into the case, as required by its duty. It also failed to await the criminal decision to determine the facts concerning the case, as required by law. Hong and his co-defendants had been found not guilty (including, not guilty of tax evasion) in the criminal case, proving that no tax was owed; nevertheless, appallingly, the Tax Bureau disregarded the criminal decision and continued to maintain its tax claim against Tai Ji Men. The case is not solved to this very day. This does not seem to be consistent with Taiwan’s image as a democracy adhering to the rule of law.

It is to Taiwan’s credit that in the Tai Ji Men case the defendants have been compensated for their unjust detention. However, in a democratic legal system this is not enough. Where there is a victim, there is a perpetrator. Unlike in a detective novel, who is the perpetrator in this case is well-known. It is Prosecutor Hou.

Taiwan has an important and unique institution called the Control Yuan. While most countries have top institutions representing the three powers, legislative, executive, and judicial, Taiwan has, in addition to the Legislative Yuan, the Executive Yuan, and a Supreme Court, a fourth apical body, the Control Yuan, whose function is to control and, if necessary, censure and impeach government officials.

In 2002, the Control Yuan investigated Hou’s behavior during the Tai Ji Men case and concluded that he was guilty of eight major violations of law. In 2005, it listed the Tai Ji Men case as a landmark case of human rights protection in the “The Third General Report and the Work of Human Rights Protection of the Control Yuan (1999-2005).” Hou was not stranger to the Control Yuan, as his methods were denounced in other cases as well. The “Judicial Rambo” indicted about 200 defendants, including 3 prosecutors and 38 police officers, in the famous Zhou Ren-Shen case. Four of the accused police officers committed suicide during the investigation. In the end, eight officers were convicted, a conviction rate of only about 20%, and the highest-ranking police officers Hou had accused were declared innocent. This was a spectacular failure in a country where up to 95% of criminal trials brought by prosecutors have resulted in convictions.

In other well-known cases, such as the Yunlin waste case and the Ma Ying-Jeou’s allowance case, Hou was accused of resorting to the same tactics threatening witnesses and defendants and producing fake transcripts of their depositions he had used against Tai Ji Men. Moreover, it was noticed that Hou had the disturbing habit of telling the media before his trials that there was a risk that judges will be bribed, implying that if they would not side with him, that would prove their corruption and dereliction of duty.

One would imagine that such a prosecutor was punished, and prevented from continuing with his wrongdoings. Unfortunately, this was not the case. A long tennis game involved the Control Yuan, the Ministry of Justice, and the Taiwan’s High Prosecutors Office, with the ball continuously bouncing from one side to the other. To make the activity of the Control Yuan effective, its findings about the illegal activities of government officials should be followed by swift sanctions. If the results of the investigations by the Control Yuan are re-investigated by the governmental agencies it had criticized, a vicious cycle is created. This is like if, in an investigation into an organized crime of fraud in sports gambling and betting, the authority asked the perpetrators to investigate the case by themselves to determine if they committed fraud. This would be simply pointless, and the function of the Control Yuan would be reduced to a simulacrum.

Tai Ji Men protesters in Taiwan.

Yet, this was exactly what happened in Prosecutor Hou’s case. The Control Yuan sent, repeatedly and for years, its conclusions about Hou to the Ministry of Justice, which also sent several letters to the High Prosecutors Office, requesting that the findings be considered, and the corresponding penalties be imposed.

The Office disregarded the results of the Control Yuan’s investigation and ignored the fact that Hou had admitted to the Control Yuan that, after the lawsuit was filed, he sent letters to the Ministry of the Interior and the county and city governments, demanding them to dissolve Tai Ji Men or cut off its water and electricity without the approval of his supervisors, seized all the real estate under the names of Dr. Hong and his wife based only on the one-sided statements of some witnesses, and failed to verify the list of the so-called “victims” before rashly prosecuting the case. The Office concluded each time that Hou did not breach any law. Obviously, it was protecting one of its own, and finally, the Office publicly declared that by June 18, 2007, the 10-year statute of limitations had expired and refused to punish Hou. In fact, between October 2007 and March 2008, the Office continued to summon Dr. and Mrs. Hong and Tai Ji Men dizi four times for investigation. This proved that the Office was deceiving itself and the public when it claimed that the 10-year statute of limitations had expired.

After years of misbehavior, the maximum that happened to Hou was that it was suggested to him to somewhat moderate its prosecutorial style. Worse, to add insult to injury, Hou was actually promoted to deputy director-general of the Agency Against Corruption.

Now, while Tai Ji Men protests continue, hundreds of dizi and independent scholars have written to the Control Yuan, pointing out that there is no statute of limitations for gross human rights violation, and asking the Control Yuan to act again, since obviously its previous interventions were not taken seriously. To some of those who wrote, the Control Yuan has answered that it cannot overcome the statute of limitations argument, although it has recommended that in the future, government officials who breach the law should be punished speedily, without running the risk that the statute of limitations would prevent appropriate sanctions.

This is not good enough, and raises both legal and political problems. Scholars who have studied the Tai Ji Men case have so far attributed it to a few rogue bureaucrats. But the fact that Hou has not been sanctioned, and has even been promoted, may lead one to suspect that human rights issues in Taiwanese bureaucracy are systemic rather than occasional.