A court yesterday sentenced Taiwan's former president Chen Shui-bian to life imprisonment after convicting him of corruption, marking a watershed in the island's turbulent young democracy. Chen - who broke new ground nine years ago by winning the election that led to the first peaceful transfer of power in China - will now be remembered as the first former Taiwanese president to be convicted of criminal offences. (Most islanders are convinced he is guilty of some, if not all, of the charges he faced, though some supporters still think Beijing engineered the case.) While the controversies and corruption scandals surrounding Chen have embarrassed Taiwan and divided the island, observers of its political scene say that once the dust has settled, the trial will be seen as testament to the success of its young democracy and legal system and a fine example to Chinese communities elsewhere. Chen was found guilty of embezzling state funds, laundering money, accepting bribes and committing forgery. Court spokesman Huang Chun-ming said: 'Chen was using his background and position to cause damage to the country. That's why the court sentenced him to life imprisonment.' Chen's wheelchair-bound wife, Wu Shu-chen, was convicted of offences including money laundering and also jailed for life. Between them they were fined NT$500 million (HK$119 million). Their son Chen Chih-chung was jailed for two and a half years for money laundering; his wife, Huang Jui-ching, received a suspended sentence on the same count. The former president, who has been held at a detention centre in Taipei since December, boycotted the verdict and his supporters protested outside the court. Wu was also absent from the dock. Chen's office confirmed the couple would appeal. Under Taiwanese law, anyone given a life sentence has an automatic right of appeal. Kao Yung-cheng, general secretary of the Taipei Bar Association, believes appeals could drag the case out for another five years. Hong Kong-based commentator Poon Siu-to said the trial was conducted in a fair, professional and independent manner - proof of the great improvements in Taiwan's legal system. Chen's dramatic fall also served as a warning to other politicians. It would help bring clean politics to the island in the long run, he said. A spokesman for Chen called the court's decisions 'absurd and illegal'. They not only violated the constitution but were aimed at 'exterminating the former first family'. While the former Taiwanese president's fate is far from decided, the court's sentence is a coda to the remarkable rise and equally stunning fall of a 58-year-old whose colourful career epitomises the politics of many young Asian democracies. Once hailed as the 'Son of Taiwan', he is now known as 'the shame of Taiwan'. When he swept to power in 2000 he ended decades of one-party rule, and many hailed the beginning of a new era. But the eight years that followed were stained by corruption scandals, policy failings and political intrigue. His bold push for independence and provocative policies towards the mainland elevated tensions across the Taiwan Strait. His reckless tactics tested the nerves of even the island's traditional ally, the United States. Born into a poor farming family in 1950, Chen earned a law degree from National Taiwan University and won his place in the history of Taiwan's democratic development by defending one of 12 dissidents locked up by the ruling Kuomintang after a human rights rally in 1979 which became known as the 'Formosa Incident'. The case won Chen respect and he was looked up to as the island's young human rights champion. He won a seat on Taipei City Council in 1981. A year after his four-year term ended in 1986, he was jailed for eight months for libel. Many saw his imprisonment as politically motivated. Before being jailed, he had run for election as magistrate in the southern county of Tainan. Three days before polling day his wife was hit by a truck, leaving her paralysed from the waist down. To this day, Chen's family blames it on a political rival. The couple's tragedy turned Chen into a leader of the island's opposition. With the quest for democracy taking hold among young Taiwanese, Chen won a legislative race by a huge margin in 1989 and in 1994 became mayor of Taipei. Four years later he lost his re-election bid to KMT candidate Ma Ying-jeou, who was to become his nemesis. Chen had his revenge in the hotly contested 2000 presidential poll. With his opponents split, he beat the KMT's Lien Chan. Chen made much of his roots and vowed to introduce reforms and stamp out corruption - a big source of public discontent. But his presidency was soon mired in the very graft he had pledged to eradicate, and his provocative stance towards Beijing split Taiwan. He won re-election by a tiny margin in 2004, a day after a mysterious incident on the campaign trial in Tainan in which he was shot in the stomach and Vice-President Annette Lu Hsiu-lien in the leg. Many people suspected the shooting was staged by Chen to win sympathy votes, but it tilted the balance against Lien. For all the family's conspiracy theories about Chen's downfall, ultimately it was they themselves, not the KMT, who brought down his Democratic Progressive Party government and brought him low. His son-in-law Chao Chien-ming was accused of engaging in inside trading in 2005 and sentenced to six years in jail. The case prompted a stream of corruption charges against the first family. A year later, prosecutors charged Wu with using receipts provided by her children, friends and others to account for claims on special state funds allotted to the president for public and secret diplomatic expenses. Chen was spared a similar charge because of his presidential immunity. The scandals contributed to a humiliation for the DPP in a legislative election in January last year and two months later Ma, campaigning on an anti-corruption platform, defeated DPP presidential candidate Frank Hsieh Chang-ting to complete the KMT's return to power. Seven months after Chen left office, he was charged with corruption.