Page last updated at 10:19 GMT, Friday, 11 September 2009 11:19 UK

Taiwan ex-leader jailed for life

Chen Shui-bian in a Taipei jail - 11 September 2009
Mr Chen chose to stay in detention rather than hear the verdict in person

Taiwan's former President Chen Shui-bian has been sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty of corruption by a court in Taipei.

Mr Chen was charged with embezzlement, taking bribes and money laundering, involving a total of $15m (£9m) while in office from 2000-2008.

Mr Chen had denied the charges, saying they were politically motivated.

His wife, Wu Shu-chen, already jailed for perjury in the case, was also sentenced to life for corruption.

'Illegal' sentence

Taipei District Court convicted Mr Chen on six charges and Mrs Wu on seven charges. The were also fined $15m.

"Chen Shui-bian and Wu Shu-chen were sentenced to life in prison because Chen has done grave damage to the country and Wu because she was involved in corruption deals as the first lady," said court spokesman Huang Chun-ming.

Life sentence for embezzling $3.15m from a presidential fund
Eight years for money laundering
Lesser sentences for taking $12m in bribes and kickbacks

A spokesman for Mr Chen said the sentence was "illegal", pointing to a decision to replace the judges in mid-trial. The former president has said he will appeal.

Mr Chen has previously said the charges were constructed by the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) government in a political vendetta. He has admitted accepting money but said it was campaign contributions.

Several dozen of his supporters were outside the court on Friday as the verdict was given, waving placards declaring his innocence.

Unprecedented trial

Mr Chen and his wife were both sentenced to life for embezzling $3.15m (£1.9m) from a special presidential fund.

They received lesser sentences on the charges related to accepting at least $9m in bribes from a Taiwanese company to help it sell a piece of land to the government and of accepting nearly $3m more in kickbacks for helping a contractor gain a government project.

Mrs Wu had already been sentenced on 2 September to one year in prison for perjury for asking her children to lie in court.

Supporters of Chen Shui-bian outside courthouse - 9 September 2009
Mr Chen's supporters say he is being persecuted

The three-year case also involved close family members of the couple, as well as former aides and government officials.

Their son and daughter-in-law received sentences ranging from 20-30 months for money laundering. Other relatives received suspended sentences. Two former advisors were given sentences of 16 and 20 years in prison.

The case, involving revelations of corruption at the highest levels, has gripped the nation, says the BBC's Cindy Sui in Taipei.

It is unprecedented in Taiwan's short history as a democracy. Direct presidential elections were first held in 1996, after one-party rule ended in the 1980s.

Many expected a guilty verdict but some believed the trial was political revenge on the part of the new ruling party.

Mr Chen and his Democratic Progressive Party favoured Taiwan's independence from the Chinese mainland, angering Beijing as well as the pro-China Kuomintang (KMT) in Taiwan.

Relations between Beijing and Taipei have been improving since the KMT, under President Ma Ying-jeou, took office last year.

Taiwan has been ruled separately from China since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, when the defeated Kuomintang retreated to Taiwan to create a self-governing entity.

But Beijing sees the island as a breakaway province which should be reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary.

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