May 15, 2018 / 8:15 AM / 11 days ago

Taiwan court hands former president four-month jail term over information leak

TAIPEI, May 15 (Reuters) - A court in Taiwan on Tuesday sentenced former president Ma Ying-jeou to four months jail over a leak of information related to national security, legal documents showed, but he vowed to appeal, and could avoid jail altogether by paying a fine.

In the first conviction in a series of lawsuits against Ma since he left office in 2016, Taiwan’s High Court overturned a lower court’s judgement of not guilty, saying that he violated a communication and surveillance act.

“Ma Ying-jeou violated the Communication and Surveillance Act,” the court said in its judgment, adding that the punishment for the sections infringed was four months’ imprisonment.

The court found that Ma had leaked information related to national security, and an opposition lawmaker Ker Chien-ming, that should have been confidential.

Ma’s sentence could, however, be avoided on payment of a fine of T$120,000 ($4,019), the court said in a statement, in line with Taiwan law that allows such payments for lighter sentences, instead of going to jail.

Ma told Taiwan media he planned to appeal. Reuters could not immediately reach Ma to seek comment.

A former stalwart of the opposition Nationalist or Kuomintang Party, Ma was Taiwan’s president from 2008 to 2016, ushering in an era of closer ties with mainland China.

China considers self-ruled and democratic Taiwan to be a wayward province to be taken back by force one day, if necessary.

Beijing has taken an increasingly hostile stance over the past two years towards Taiwan, following the election of Tsai Ing-wen of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party to succeed Ma. ($1=29.8570 Taiwan dollars) (Reporting by Taiwan bureau; Editing by James Pomfret and Clarence Fernandez)

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