The lawsuit was lodged by Taiwan Republic Office, a hardline pro-independence group wary of a possible opposition win. It alleged the agreement included an “illicit deal” over the allocation of government positions if they gained power.
The prosecutor’s office said its investigation was proceeding, despite the KMT-TPP agreement falling apart when the two sides failed to agree on how to choose a candidate and running mate before the registration deadline.
In a notice issued on Monday, prosecutors said investigations were “officially under way” but indicated that the four are far from being seen as suspects, given that their alleged activities had not been clearly determined.
Ma’s office was the first to cry foul, issuing a statement on Monday that said the electoral pact negotiations had nothing to do with bribery and accused the DPP government of “judicial intervention”.
“No sooner after President Tsai Ing-wen said there was no government intervention in judicial cases in Taiwan, the Taipei District Prosecutors Office started investigations of ex-president Ma, [along with] Hou, Chu and Ko.”
Negotiations on the formation of a coalition government between the KMT – Taiwan’s main opposition party – and the smaller TPP were “far from being a crime, as such an alliance had long been practised in the democratic world”, the statement said.
The lawsuit relates to a November 15 meeting between the two parties, where Ma – after days of pushing for a pact – agreed to serve as a witness to the negotiations.
Opinion polls were suggesting that a joint ticket offered the best chance of beating the independence-leaning DPP in the presidential and legislative elections on January 13. The DPP’s candidate for the leadership is Vice-President William Lai Ching-te.
The talks yielded a deal to form a KMT-TPP coalition government if elected but it fell apart after weeks of disagreement over who would lead the ticket. Hou, the KMT’s candidate and mayor of New Taipei City, and TPP leader Ko registered separate tickets on November 22.
The TPP also hit out at the Tsai government, accusing it of trying to use the prosecutors’ office to persecute the opposition.
At a news conference on Tuesday to brief reporters on his labour policy, Ko said he had cooperated with the DPP in running for Taipei mayor in 2014, when the KMT was in power.
“At that time, the KMT did not sue me for election bribery … So that’s what I often say, the KMT is bad but the DPP is even worse,” he said.
Chilly Chen, head of the Taiwan Republic Office that brought the complaint, compared the failed deal to “criminal gangs splitting the loot after a theft”.
The group is accusing the four of offering benefits to coax candidates to either drop out of the race or accept a vice-presidential spot on the ticket, as well as reaching an “illicit pork barrel deal” to split government positions if they took power.
“The fact that the four met closed-door to negotiate a deal on who gets to control the government positions ahead of the elections not only breaks relevant laws here but also violates the public’s interest and is … unfair to other candidates,” Chen said.
Taiwanese penalties for electoral misconduct include up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to NT$20 million (US$636,748).