Page last updated at 22:05 GMT, Friday, 12 December 2008

Former Taiwan president indicted


The former president of Taiwan, Chen Sui-bian, is released from jail

Prosecutors in Taiwan have formally indicted ex-President Chen Shui-bian and his wife on corruption charges.

The charges include forgery and money laundering, a spokesman for the prosecutors said.

The 57-year-old former leader, held in a Taipei jail since 12 November while prosecutors probed his affairs, was later released on bail.

Mr Chen has denied any wrongdoing, saying he is being persecuted by his successors for his anti-China stance.

He has been a vocal and persistent critic of the new government's China policies since he left office in May, at the end of eight years in the presidency.

His accusations have been denied by both the Chinese government and Taiwan's current President Ma Ying-jeou, of the Nationalist Kuomingtang party (KMT).

'Severest punishment'

Mr Chen, his wife, and 12 others were indicted on charges of corruption, money laundering, embezzlement and document forgery charges, a spokesman for the prosecutors' office said.

The couple stand accused of embezzling millions of dollars in public funds and accepting a huge bribe in a land purchase deal.

State Public Prosecutor General Chen Tsung-ming, left, and spokesman for special prosecutors Chen Yun-nan, announce they have indicted former President Chen Shui-bia
The prosecutors took a month to conduct their investigation

We are seeking the severest punishment for Chen since the former president had breached his oath and showed no remorse during the investigation," a prosecution spokesman told reporters.

Legal experts say the former leader could face life in prison if convicted of all the charges against him.

Mr Chen has maintained his innocence throughout the investigation, insisting his political opponents are mounting a "witch-hunt" against him, and accusing the new administration of making him "a sacrifice to appease China".

He is an ardent supporter of Taiwanese independence, and a trenchant critic of President Ma's stance of expanding ties with Beijing.

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.

Damaged reputation?

Mr Chen and his family have been mired in corruption allegations since July 2006, when his son-in-law was charged with insider trading on the stock market and then jailed for seven years.

The following November, his wife faced charges of corruption and forgery.

Presidential immunity prevented prosecutors from charging Mr Chen when he was in office, but now they are free to take action.

Observers say the charges have damaged the reputation of the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party.

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