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Ex-president and wife given life sentences

ROC Central News Agency

2009/09/11 21:45:32
Adds prosecutors' response, more charges to come Taipei Sept. 11 (CNA) Ex-president Chen Shui-bian and his wife Wu Shu-jen were both given life sentences and fined NT$200 million (US$6.13 million) and NT$300 million respectively after being found guilty by the Taipei District Court Friday on corruption, forgery and money-laundering charges.

Anticipating that he would be found guilty, the former president said prior to the verdict's announcement that he would appeal it.

Their son Chen Chih-chung was sentenced to two years and six months in jail and was fined NT$150 million for money laundering.

Their daughter-in-law Huang Jui-ching received a sentence of one year and eight months, but will be put on probation for five years and ordered to make a "public welfare donation" of NT$200 million to national coffers in lieu of going to prison.

She was also fined an additional NT$150 million.

Two of the former president's close aides, Presidential Office Deputy Secretary-General Ma Yung-cheng, and the director of the president's office Lin Teh-hsun, were sentenced to 20 years and 16 years respectively for helping Chen Shui-bian and his wife claim state funds with others' receipts.

However, the ex-president's former cashier Chen Chen-hui, who was indicted along with Ma and Lin, was spared for confessing and showing remorse before the court although she was also found guilty.

The court also ordered the three aides along with the former president and his wife to return NT$100 million to the government.

Former Hsinchu Science Park chief James Lee, whom the court found had bought a piece of land from a development company Dayu on behalf of the science park in return for kickbacks for the ex-first family and himself, was sentenced to six years. Wu Shu-jen's brother Wu Ching-mao and her sister-in-law Chen Chun-ying, who were accused of helping the ex-first family launder their ill-gotten assets, were each sentenced to two years in prison. But their sentences were also commuted to five years probation and the payment of a public welfare donation to the government of NT$3 million each.

Kuo Chuan-ching, a businessmen who paid the first lady to win a government contract to build the Nangang Exhibition Hall in Taipei, was given a three-month jail term.

Tsai Ming-jie and Tsai Ming-jhe, the two brothers who solicited kickbacks for Wu Shu-jen and helped her stash them overseas, were formally sentenced to two years and 26 months respectively.

The court also commuted their sentences, however, to five-years probation and public welfare donations to public coffers of NT$10 million and NT$3 million respectively.

Their sister Tsai Mei-li, who was Wu Shu-jen's classmate and introduced them to act as Wu's frontmen, was not sentenced because of poor health, which kept her from standing trial.

In its sentence, the three judges who presided over the trial condemned Chen Shui-bian for betraying people's trust after being elected as head of the state and trying to manipulate the judicial process during the trial with the purpose of obstructing justice.

"As leader of the state, he should serve as a good moral example for voters, but he indulged his family members and confidants in abusing his power in return for money," the judges said, according to a statement summarizing the ruling.

"One man's avarice led to chaos in the whole country," it added.

The judges said they had sympathy for Wu Shu-jen, who is confined to a wheelchair, but were left speechless by her lack of scruples about peddling influence for money.

"And the ill-gotten gains she accumulated were simply unbelievable," the judges said.

None of the defendants were at the Taipei District Court to hear the verdict. More than 100 supporters of the president gathered outside the courthouse before the verdict was announced, chanting slogans and holding up banners demanding that the court free Chen and insisting on his innocence.

The Special Investigation Division under the Supreme Prosecutors Office, which led the probe of the case, said it respected the court's decision.

An anonymous prosecutor from the division said the evidence mentioned in the indictment was generally accepted by the court, and the court's sentence meet the prosecutors' request for the "harshest penalty" for the ex-president and his wife.

The prosecutor also said the division would indict the former president and some other officials in his administration on charges related to funds for "secret diplomacy" missions that went missing.

Wu Shu-jen was indicted Nov. 3, 2006 for embezzling NT$14.8 million from the state affairs fund, but Chen Shui-bian was not charged at the time because he held presidential immunity.

Also indicted at that time were three close aides of the former president -- cashier Chen Chen-hui, Presidential Office Deputy Secretary-General Ma Yung-cheng, and the director of the president's office Lin Teh-hsun.

They were accused of helping Wu claim reimbursement from the state affairs funds using the receipts of other individuals.

The former president was indicted Dec. 12, 2008---seven months after he stepped down--- on money laundering, corruption and forgery charges involving nearly half a billion Taiwan dollars, becoming the first former president in Taiwan's history to be put on trial for criminal offenses.

Instead of seeking a specifically defined sentence, the prosecutors are seeking the "harshest penalty" for Taiwan's former leader.

Prosecutors from the Special Investigation Division under the Supreme Prosecutors Office also formally charged Chen's wife Wu Shu-jen, his son Chen Chih-chung and his daughter-in-law Huang Jui-ching, for their involvement in the case and recommended they receive "harsh penalties." In addition, prosecutors indicted 10 other individuals for their involvement in the former first family's alleged corruption and money-laundering schemes.

The indictment charged Chen Shui-bian and his wife of illegally receiving or embezzling NT$490 million, including NT$204.15 million and US$8.73 million, some of which was sent overseas.

Of that total, the indictment reads, NT$104.15 million was embezzled from the state affairs fund set aside for the president's discretionary use during his eight years in office from 2000 to 2008.

Prosecutors charge that more than NT$27 million of that was obtained by using inappropriate receipts to claim reimbursement from the fund, nearly double the NT$14.8 million Wu was originally indicted for embezzling from the fund in 2006.

The balance, or more than NT$76 million, was claimed by Presidential Office cashier Chen Chen-hui as "secret funds" from the state affairs fund and handed over to Wu Shu-jen to pay for the family's daily living expenses and other uses, the indictment alleges.

The ex-first family allegedly received another NT$100 million and US$6 million in kickbacks from a total payoff of US$11.98 million by a development company called "Dayu" to pave the way for the Hsinchu Science Park to buy a plot of land held by Dayu in Taoyuan County at a price prosecutors believe was unreasonably high.

The balance of the bribe money was pocketed by James Lee, then-chief of the Hsinchu Science Park, and Tsai Ming-jhe, who transferred the kickback to accounts held by ex-first family members, prosecutors charged.

The indictment accuses the former first family of collecting another US$2.73 million in bribes from contractor Kuo Chuan-ching to help him win a tender to build the Nangang Exhibition Hall between 2003 and 2004.

Prosecutors believe Kuo won the contract by bribing members of a panel organized by the Ministry of Interior to assess the bidding after then-Interior Minister Yu Cheng-hsien revealed the list of panel members to Kuo at the request of Wu Shu-jen.

Former Interior Minister Yu Cheng-hsien was separately indicted by the Taipei District Prosecutors Office for leaking secrets.

As for the other 10 defendants, the prosecutor asked the court to hand down lenient punishments or spare them because they have shown remorse and thoroughly testified to their roles in the case.

They included Wu Shu-jen's brother Wu Ching-mao, her sister-in-law Chen Chun-ying, her university classmate Tsai Mei-li, and Tsai's brothers Tsai Ming-jhe and Tsai Ming-jie.

They were all charged with helping the ex-first family collect bribes and wire them abroad.

The 10 also included the former president's aides Chen Chen-hui, Ma and Lin.

Prosecutors have also accused Chen and Wu of taking bribes of NT$310 million (US$9.47 million) from two local business tycoons.

One of them is Diana Chen, the former chairwoman of Taipei 101 tower; the other is Jeffrey Koo Jr., former vice chairman of the Chinatrust Financial Holding Co.

Prosecutors said in their indictment that Diana Chen delivered a check of NT$10 million under the name of a friend -- Chen Chin-wen -- to Wu Shu-jen's brother Wu Ching-mao in 2004.

In return for the money, prosecutors said, Chen Shui-bian abused his power to press then-Finance Minister Lin Chuan to appoint Diana Chen as the chairwoman of the state-controlled Grand Cathay Securities Corp.

The then-finance minister named Diana Chen to head the Taipei 101 instead because of difficulties in convincing major stock holders of Grand Cathay to accept her at the time.

Furthermore, prosecutors said the former first couple had asked for political contributions from Jeffrey Koo Jr. since 2002 under the pretext that the money would be used to help finance Chen's election campaigns or the country's secret diplomatic activities.

Koo, who often visited the first family at their official residence at the time, had delivered NT$290 million in seven contributions to the first family.

Koo fled to Japan in 2007 after being probed for insider trading in an unrelated case and was asked by Chen Shui-bian for more contributions under the excuse of helping with the then ruling Democratic Progressive Party's unsuccessful 2008 presidential election, according to the indictment.

As a result, Koo made a donation of NT$10 million to Chen, for which the prosecutors said the ex-president and his wife should face a charge of exacting illegal profit.

Jeffrey Koo Jr. and Diana Chen were not charged in the case.

The money came to light thanks to the Egmont Group, an international anti-money laundering group, which alerted Taiwanese authorities to the ex-first family's overseas bank accounts in 2008.

The case has mushroomed into a political scandal, as more local business tycoons were found to have made huge contributions to Chen, allegedly in return for the ex-president's favors.

Chen Shui-bian has been detained since Dec. 30 and was the only one in the case to be held in custody now.

Chen Shui-bian has insisted he is innocent and that the funds involved were simply campaign contributions that he is allowed to keep under Taiwanese law. He has said he was not aware of his wife allegedly accepting any bribes.

The former president admitted on August 14 that his wife had remitted more than US$20 million overseas, but said the funds were surplus contributions to his campaigns for Taipei City mayor in 1994 and 1998 and the presidency in 2000 and 2004.

The ex-president has called his prosecution a political witch hunt to punish him for angering China with his moves to push for Taiwan independence while he was in office from 2000 to 2008. He has alleged that other officials who have misspent funds or taken bribes have not been prosecuted.

Ruling party and government officials have denied his claims. Wu Shu-jen who was also accused of coaching her son Chen Chih-chung, her daughter Chen Hsing-yu and her son-in-law Chao Chien-ming to lie to prosecutors during their probe into the case, was convicted of perjury on Sept. 1 and sentenced to a year in prison.

Chen Chih-chung, Chen Hsing-yu and Chao Chien-ming were each given six-month jail terms in the same trial. The sentences can all be appealed.

(By Maubo Chang) enditem

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