World News

Taiwan ex-president Chen charged with corruption

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Former Taiwan president and anti-China firebrand Chen Shui-bian was indicted on Friday in connection with a series of corruption-related scandals involving himself and family members.

Slideshow ( 4 images )

Prosecutors said they would recommend the heaviest sentence possible on charges of graft, forgery and money laundering.

The charges were the first filed against Chen since his November 12 arrest when he was detained. No other former Taiwan president has faced criminal prosecution.

“Ex-president Chen Shui-bian’s crimes are major,” said Chen Yun-nan, spokesman for the Supreme Court’s special prosecutor’s office. “We will ask the courts to give ex-president Chen Shui-bian the strictest punishment.”

Chen, whose pursuit of independence for self-ruled Taiwan upset rival China and Taiwan’s main ally the United States during his presidency from 2000 to 2008, denies wrongdoing and has described the probe involving him as a political plot.

China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong’s Communists won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists (KMT) fled to the island. Beijing has vowed to bring Taiwan under its rule, by force if necessary.

Chen’s fate is likely to affect public opinion of Taiwan’s opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which backed the former president when he was in office and faces tough local elections next year. Chen left the party in August.

“Chen Shui-bian will still affect the inner workings of the party,” said Hsu Yung-ming, a political science professor at Soochow University in Taipei. “But what influence he will have is hard to say.”

Prosecutors also charged Chen’s wife, son, daughter in-law and 11 other family members or former aides in connection with the web of suspected financial crimes, which have been investigated for more than two years.

Chen loyalists have protested in the streets, calling him innocent, since his incarceration on the day of the arrest.

“Virtually no one in Taiwan politics is honest, not even (President) Ma Ying-jeou,” his lawyer Cheng Wen-lung said.

Chen will appear for all court hearings once a trial begins, the lawyer said. His wife, Wu Shu-chen, has enraged the courts by missing 17 court appearances since her indictment on corruption charges in November 2006, citing poor health.

Editing by Nick Macfie