Taiwan’s ex-president detained in laundering probe

Former Taiwan president Chen Shui-bian, an anti-China firebrand known for advocating Taiwan’s independence from Beijing, was in custody on Tuesday after being questioned for most of the day about a money-laundering case.

Chen, a 58-year-old career lawyer and president from 2000 to 2008, left a special Supreme Court prosecutor’s office in handcuffs after more than six hours. About 300 officers guarded the area to fend off any protests.

Chen raised his hands into the air to show his handcuffs to a crowd of media outside the prosecutor’s office before he was pushed into a waiting car to be driven to a Taipei district courthouse.

Earlier in the day he told a news conference outside the prosecutor’s office he expected to be arrested in connection with the money-laundering case involving himself and family members.

The former first family is suspected of sending at least T$1-billion ($30,4-million) to Japan, the United States, the Cayman Islands, Singapore and Switzerland and other places, Taiwan newspapers said, citing the Supreme Court prosecutor’s office.

Probes into the affairs of Chen, his family and aides have hurt the image of the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which faces tough local elections in 2009.

The former president and his wife, also a graft suspect in an ongoing trial, left the party in August.

Chen supporters have accused the ruling Nationalist Party (KMT) of pressuring prosecutors to pursue high-profile DPP members since Chen left office in May due to term limits.

He was replaced by the KMT’s Ma Ying-jeou, who swept to victory on a pledge to improve Taiwan’s ailing economy amid broader discontent over a Chen administration whose frequent prods at China alienated not only Beijing but also Taiwan’s important ally the United States.

China has claimed self-ruled Taiwan as its territory since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949 and pledged to bring the island under its rule, by force if necessary. – Reuters

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