TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan’s supreme court sentenced ex-president Chen Shui-bian, an anti-China firebrand whose rhetoric enraged Beijing and irked Washington, and his wife to 19 years in prison for bribery, a court official said on Friday.
The decision that cannot be appealed ends two in a web of cases against the former first family, meaning the sentence could grow as the supreme court reviews other charges. A high court gave both Chen and his wife 20 years in June.
Chen’s fate may impact tense local elections on November 27 as he was the anti-China opposition party’s only president in Taiwan history and was seen as a party standard bearer until he resigned over the charges against him.
This month’s elections are being watched as a bellwether for the 2012 presidential race.
Chen, who has been in jail for two years pending trial and would become the first Taiwan ex-president to do prison time, rejects the charges and calls them politically motivated.
He is talking to his lawyer about any possible last-ditch moves, a spokesman for his foundation said.
In office from 2000 to 2008, he advocated Taiwan’s formal independence from China, which claims sovereignty over the island and seeks to reunify after six decades of separate rule. His stance upset Beijing and Taiwan’s staunchest ally the United States as it sought to build relations with China.
Today’s ruling Nationalist Party is more conciliatory toward China and has brokered a series of trade deals.
Late Thursday’s court decision covers bribery cases related to a land development project and a political appointment.
Chen and former first lady Wu Shu-jen also face charges of money laundering and misuse of state funds. The cases involve a total $20 million that prosecutors say was illegally taken while Chen was in office.
Reporting by Ralph Jennings, editing by Andrew Marshall