Former Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian released on bail

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Taiwan’s former President, Chen Shui-bian (???), has been conditionally released on bail, some ten hours after he was indicted for corruption. Speaking to media at the Taipei District Court, he said: “I want to thank my lawyers, members of the Democratic Progressive Party and my supporters who have given me huge encouragement. I am grateful to those who cared for, supported and looked after me so I could get through the hardest and loneliest 32 days of my life in prison.” He earns the historical distinction of being the first ex-president of the Republic of China to be indicted for criminal offenses and could suffer life imprisonment if convicted.

Along with 13 other family members and close associates, including his wheelchair-bound wife, son Chen Chih-Chung, and daughter-in-law Huang Jui-ching, Chen was indicted Friday on charges of embezzling government funds and laundering money or ill-gotten bribes. The panel of three judges ruled he should appear at future court hearings and must not leave the country nor change his address.

Prosecutor Lin Che-hui accused Chen of having “embezzled 104 million New Taiwan dollars ($3.12 million) from a special presidential fund, and received bribes of $11.73 million in connection with a government land procurement deal and a separate construction project; the damning piece of evidence was the presence of NT$740 million ($22.2 million) in cash stashed in a Taipei bank safety vault held by the Chens.” Yuanta Securities director Tu Li-ping said, “she hand delivered NT$200 million ($6 million) in cash to Wu at the presidential residence in 2006 on behalf of executives of an affiliated bank; the money was an incentive for Wu not to interfere with a merger the bank was pursuing.”

Chen insists on his innocence. Contradicting the 100-page indictment, he said that “the $21 million his wife wired to their son’s Swiss bank accounts came from leftover campaign donations. Taiwanese law permits such donations to be kept by political candidates.”

In 1975, Chen married Wu Shu-chen (???), the daughter of a physician. The couple has a daughter, Chen Hsing-yu (???), who is a dentist; and a son, Chen Chih-Chung (???), who, having received a law degree in Taiwan, studied at and graduated with a M.A. degree from the University of California in 2005.

In November 2006, Chen’s wife Wu Shu-chen and three other high ranking officials of the Presidential Office were indicted for corruption, charged with misappropriating NT$14.8 million (USD$450,000) of government funds using falsified documents. Due to the protection from the Constitution against prosecution of the sitting president, Chen could not be prosecuted until he left office, and he was not indicted, but was alleged to be an accomplice on his wife’s indictment.

Chen’s term as President of the Republic of China ended in May 2008. Immediately thereafter, prosecutors began investigating him regarding allegations that he misused his discretionary “state affairs fund”, as well as his connection to the first family’s money-laundering activities. He resigned from the Democratic Progressive Party on August 15, 2008, one day after admitting to falsifying past campaign expenses and wiring campaign contributions to overseas accounts.

In November 2008, Chen was escorted by a security staff, into the Taipei prosecutor’s office for questioning. After 6 hours, he left the Supreme Court prosecutor`s office in handcuffs, was arrested and detained. The charges each carry a minimum penalty of 5 years imprisonment. Following a 6 day hunger strike while in detention, Chen collapsed and was rushed to Taipei’s Far Eastern Memorial Hospital, where he was later transferred to Panchiao Hospital for force-feeding. Despite Chen’s lack of interest in appealing, his lawyer Cheng Wen-long completed a motion seeking his release from detention and filed a notice of appeal of the court’s decision, along with a petition for constitutional interpretation to restrain actions violative of the Constitution.

Prosecutor General, Chen Tsung-ming said that after Chen’s case had been removed to the Taipei Local Court, he would re-file a petition for Chen’s detention. Chen and the main opposition DPP have accused President Ma Ying-jeou‘s administration of “using the scandals to plan a political plot against the former leader.”

Meanwhile, The Straits Times reported that “prosecutors are to investigate former President of the Republic of China and Chairman of the Kuomintang from 1988 to 2000, Lee Teng-hui on suspicion of money laundering, based on allegations made by Chen during his own questioning recently that his predecessor transferred large funds abroad through dummy accounts.” Mr. Lee angrily denied the accusations concerning “a suspected transfer of 50 million Taiwan dollars (US$2.26 million) to Mr Lee from a local stock investor via overseas dummy accounts.” Charges also included transactions made at the end of Lee’s tenure and at the beginning of Chen’s term, including “one billion Taiwan dollars that had been wired to various countries including Singapore.”

The China Post calls for calm and urges fair trial for Chen. “All the people should wait patiently for the outcome of the trial … They shouldn’t do anything to influence the judges in any way, because the rule of law in Taiwan is at stake. We should show the world that Taiwan is a democracy where anybody who commits a crime, be he a man on the street or a former president, is duly punished.” it said.

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