Page last updated at 07:24 GMT, Thursday, 26 March 2009

Ex-Taiwan leader in graft trial


Former President Chen Shui-bian is driven to the court in Taipei

Taiwan's former President Chen Shui-bian has gone on trial accused of a series of corruption charges in a case that has gripped the island.

Mr Chen, 58, along with his wife and 12 others, is accused of embezzlement, taking bribes and money laundering.

He denies the charges and says he is a victim of a "government purge".

Since leaving office in 2008, Mr Chen has been a vocal critic of the new government's support for China, which claims sovereignty over Taiwan.

Prosecutors allege Mr Chen and his wife Wu Shu-chen embezzled money from a special presidential fund and laundered it through Swiss banks during his eight years in office.

They also accuse the couple of receiving bribes from a Taiwanese company to help it sell a piece of land to the government.

Altogether, the money involved in the case adds up to an estimated $11m (£7.5m).

In February, Mrs Wu pleaded guilty to accepting a $2.2m (£1.5m) political donation in connection with a land purchase deal, but denied that it had been a bribe, as alleged by prosecutors.

She admitted charges of forging documents in a separate case but denied using the money for personal gain.

Nine other accused, including Mr Chen's son and daughter-in-law, have pleaded guilty to some charges related to the case.

'Unbearable pain'

Mr Chen was taken into the Taipei courtroom in handcuffs to face the start of the formal proceedings against him.

Supporters of former Taiwan president Chen Shui-bian at a news conference in Taipei, Taiwan (25/03/2009)
The case has attracted huge public interest in Taiwan

"The case has nothing to do with me and this is causing me unbearable pain," he told the court, according to the AFP news agency.

His trial will initially investigate the alleged land deal before moving on to other charges, and is expected to last for several months.

The BBC's Cindy Sui in Taipei says people in Taiwan have been engrossed in the case, with some people shocked by the alleged crimes but others believing it is an example of political revenge.

Mr Chen says the charges against him are politically motivated, constructed by the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) government to please Beijing.

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

Mr Chen has also challenged the impartiality of the judging panel, saying the fact they had not allowed him out on bail in December was "punitive".

Embezzling $3m from the presidential fund
Taking $9m in bribes over a land purchase deal
Laundering money in Swiss bank accounts

"In order to gain favour and protection from the Beijing authorities, the Nationalist government has launched an all-out purge and cleansing against the former... administration," Mr Chen's office said on Wednesday.

The KMT party accused Mr Chen of failing to "set an example" as a national leader.

The court date follows more than two months of pre-trial hearings. If found guilty, Mr Chen could spend the rest of his life in prison.

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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Sky News Ex-Taiwanese President In Corruption Trial - 38 hrs ago
Guardian Unlimited Former Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian's graft trial begins - 40 hrs ago
New York Times Taiwans Former President Goes on Trial for Corruption - 40 hrs ago
Washington PostTaiwan's Chen claims persecution as trial begins - 40 hrs ago
Time Ex-President Chen's Corruption Trial Begins in Taiwan - 41 hrs ago
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