Taiwan’s ex-president to go on trial for corruption

Taiwan’s former president Chen Shui-bian will appear in court on Thursday on corruption charges that could result in life imprisonment if convicted.

But on the eve of the trial, Chen accused the government of his successor Ma Ying-jeou of violating judicial procedure by detaining him, and alleged it was trying to purge political dissidence.

”The so-called judicial procedure is merely a theatrical play, nothing more than a farce,” Chen said in a statement on Wednesday.

Chen (58) was charged along with his wife Wu Shu-chen in mid-December with embezzling $2,97-million in state funds, accepting $14-million in bribes, money laundering and document forgery during his 2000-08 presidential term.

A total of 14 people including Chen’s son, daughter-in-law, brother-in-law and sister-in-law were indicted in the high-profile corruption case that has rocked the island.

Chen, who has been detained since December, said he believed the verdict in his case was ”prepared long in advance” and that his sentence ”has already been determined since such decisions are not really up to the prosecutors and judges who are merely following orders”.

He charged Ma of China-friendly Nationalist Party or Kuomintang (KMT) with ”regressing Taiwan’s democracy and rule of law”.

”We are witnessing the formation of a neo-authoritarian regime, one that is anti-Taiwan and pro-China and opposes independence and promotes unification,” Chen said.

He was referring to the KMT authoritarian rule between 1949-87. The party briefly lost power to the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party in the 2000 presidential election.

Chen has repeatedly accused the Ma government of siding with China in opposing Taiwan independence movement on the island and suppressing those who promote such a clause.

Taiwan and China split at the end of a civil war in 1949, but Beijing still regards the island as an integral part of the nation.

Cross-strait relations have warmed since Ma took office in May.

On Wednesday his lawyer Cheng Wen-lung said it was a ”total violation of judicial fairness” by holding Chen for more than 110 days before he was officially brought before trial.

”When there is no direct evidence proving the former president had worked with his wife in committing those so-called crimes, detaining the ex-president is not only a violation of human rights, but is also an abuse of democracy and the rule of law as well as justice in Taiwan,” Cheng said.

Citing a possibility that Chen might flee abroad because of the serious jail sentences, or that he could threaten witnesses if freed, prosecutors have succeeded in persuading the court to continue to hold the ex-president.

Of the 14 defendants, except for Chen and his two former chief aides, all have pleaded guilty to either money laundering or document forgery charges. One defendant, who agreed to become a witness in exchange for immunity, has pleaded guilty to embezzlement of special state funds under the instruction of Chen’s wife and two former aides.

Thursday’s trial will focus on Chen being charged with working with his wife in accepting 400-million Taiwan dollars in bribe from a businessman in securing a land deal. A former banker has testified that Chen’s wife took the money with his help.

The former first lady Wu has admitted that she took money from the businessman, but argued that she thought it was just a political contribution for Chen. Wu, whose formal trial of corruption begun earlier this month, told the court she wired the fund abroad without telling her husband.

Corruption cases can carry jail terms of 30 years to life. — Sapa-dpa

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