Taiwan's Chen cleared of stealing special state funds
Imprisoned former Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian was acquitted of embezzling special state funds in a dramatic twist that is likely to boost his camp's chances in January's legislative election.
But the latest verdict will not affect the 171/2-year sentence he is serving after being convicted of two counts of bribe-taking by the Supreme Court last November.
The disgraced former leader was taken to the Taiwan High Court early yesterday morning to stand trial on charges of collaborating with his wife Wu Shu-chen in embezzling NT$104.5 million (HK$28 million) in special state funds while he was president between 2000 and 2008. In addition to the two bribery charges that he was convicted of in November, Chen was also charged, along with his wife, with money laundering and taking bribes from businessmen in awarding a contract for the construction of a large exhibition hall in Taipei.
The high court cleared Chen and Wu of the embezzlement charges yesterday on the grounds that they did not have any intention to steal the funds and that he paid more than he was said to have stolen from the funds in financing secret diplomatic missions.
'The defendant Chen Shui-bian spent some NT$133 million in financing 21 classified diplomatic missions and cash rewards for people who deserved them while he was in office between 2001 and 2006, much more than the NT$104.5 million in special funds the prosecutors charged that the defendant had stolen,' Taiwan High Court spokesman Chen Ching-chiao said. That showed the former leader had not used his position to embezzle the special funds.
But the couple were still convicted of perjury for using receipts given by others to claim reimbursement for spending from the special state funds. They were also convicted of a money laundering case related to their previous bribe-taking convictions in November.
The court also sentenced their son, Chen Chih-chung, to 14 months' jail and gave daughter-in-law Huang Jui-ching a suspended one-year sentence for helping the former presidential couple launder money abroad.
Analysts said the latest ruling would give the Chen camp much needed ammunition in campaigning for the legislative election on January 14.
'Those who are running for the January legislative election under the banner of Chen Shui-bian's 'One Taiwan, One China Alliance' can now loudly refute the claims that the former president is corrupt and say that the former president has been mistreated because of a political witch-hunt,' said political analyst George Tsai Wei, from Taipei's Chinese Culture University.
This would not only increase their chances in the January election but would also exert pressure on the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party and the ruling Kuomintang, he said.
If the former president chooses not to appeal against the latest verdict, he will have to serve an extra two years and eight months in prison in addition to his current 171/2-year sentence. Wu, paralysed from the waist down, will not have to worry about the 101/2 years added to her prison term because she has been allowed to stay at home due to her extremely feeble condition.
The latest ruling was hailed as gratifying and 'final justice' by the pro-independence camp.
Through his lawyer, Chen thanked the court for clearing him of the embezzlement charges, calling it a fair judgment, but asked the court to review his other charges, which he insisted were politically motivated.
Chen Shui-bian's approval ratings in his last days as president in May 2008. When first elected, he had approval ratings of 79 per cent