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Court to begin trying case of speaker vs. KMT

TAIPEI -- A district court will hear the case of Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng versus the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) for the first time Wednesday in a legal battle that could decide whether Wang can stay on as president of the Legislative Yuan.

The three lawyers representing the KMT will insist that Wang lobbied officials improperly and will counter his claim that the party's disciplinary committee abused its power when it decided Sept. 11 to revoke his membership, sources said Tuesday.

The lawyers will also tell the three-judge panel that the committee's decision fell within the realm of the self-governance of a political party and that Wang's behavior did indeed merit such a disciplinary measure, according to the sources.

Wang has said he will be represented by his lawyer in the case that he brought against the KMT in a bid to keep his party membership.

A revocation of membership, if left to stand, would lead to his disqualification as a KMT-appointed legislator-at-large and, by extension, his position as head of the legislature, a job the 38-year veteran lawmaker has held for nearly 15 years.

Along with the lawsuit, Wang filed for — and won — a court injunction to keep his relationship with the party intact pending a verdict on the case.

The KMT accuses Wang, 72, of influence peddling on behalf of Ker Chien-ming, chief whip of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus, to prevent an appeal of a not-guilty verdict handed down to Ker in late June in a breach-of-trust case.

While admitting to making calls to then-Justice Minister Tseng Yung-fu and Chen Shou-huang, head prosecutor of the Taiwan High Prosecutors Office, Wang claimed they only discussed the need for appeals in general and not any specific case.

Lin Hsiu-tao, a junior prosecutor in charge of Ker's case, did not appeal Ker's verdict after Chen had a meeting with her. Lin and Chen are being investigated by a panel charged with reviewing prosecutors' performance.

The possible case of influence peddling came to light Sept. 6, when a special team of top prosecutors revealed Wang's telephone discussions with Ker about his calls to Tseng and Chen, obtained via wiretaps.

A political storm ensued, with Wang's supporters and the government's critics condemning alleged interference in legislative affairs, not least by President Ma Ying-jeou, who said publicly before the KMT disciplinary committee decision that Wang was no longer fit to serve as speaker.

The wiretapping of legislators' phones and the way Wang was treated also gave ammunition to Wang's sympathizers.

There have been calls within the KMT in recent weeks to have Wang reinstated, although neither side has brought up the idea of an out-of-court settlement in the run-up to the court hearing.

There is no knowing how long the legal battle will last. Wang could serve out his term as speaker, due to end in January 2016, given the three-tier trial system and the right of the losing side to appeal several times before a final verdict is reached.

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