Chen Shui-bian jail term reduced

In a major reversal of first-trial verdicts, the Taiwan Supreme Court yesterday found former President Chen Shui-bian not guilty of several corruption charges and greatly reduced the sentences previously imposed on Chen and his family.

Announcing its new verdicts on the so-called "state funds" case, a collegiate bench of the Taiwan Supreme Court ruled that both Chen and his wife, sentenced to life in the first trial, are not guilty of embezzling the "state funds" in a secret account. But the former first lady, pronounced guilty of forgery of documents, was sentenced to 10 months' imprisonment for documentation forgery.

Justifying their verdicts and chastising the defendants, the justices presiding over the cases claimed they were not swayed by political consideration.

Chen and his family may still appeal the retrial verdicts. Chen is serving an 18-year sentence for corruption in another case, while his wife, also sentenced to the same prison term, has yet to begin her prison term, claiming physical frailty. Prosecutors, however, vowed to appeal the verdicts immediately after they were announced, as did Chen's son.

The pursuit of democratic values in Taiwan, as a historical process in which many have sacrificed their youth and even lives, has been "distorted" as a result of Chen's illegal pursuits, the justices said in their rulings.

The justices, based on a comparison between the amount of money Chen purportedly spent on secret diplomacy and the amount of money prosecutors claimed was in the account, concluded Chen and his wife did not embezzle money from the "state funds" account.

In the so-called "money-laundering case," in which both Chen and his wife were convicted in a second trial, the collegiate bench sentenced both to two years behind bars and fined them NT$3 million (S$124,800).

Referring specifically to the case, the justices said many people concerned about the future of democratic politics would not forget Aug. 15, 2008, the day when Chen confessed to transferring US$20 million (S$832,000) to a Swiss bank account.

Chen Chih-chung, Chen Shui-bian's son, previously sentenced to two-and-a-half years' imprisonment and fined NT$150 million for his role in the same money-laundering case, had his sentence reduced to a year and two months and his fine to NT$4.5 million. Huang Jui-ching, the younger Chen's wife, sentenced to a year and eight months behind bars and fined NT$150 million in the first trial, had her jail term reduced in the retrial to a year's suspended sentence on the condition that she pays the government NT$10 million. Her NT$150 million fine was also reduced to NT$4 million.

In the so-called "Nankang Exhibition Hall" corruption case, the collegiate bench sentenced the former president to two years and eight months' imprisonment, to be served concurrently with his two-year sentence in the money-laundering case, and his wife to another nine years behind bars.

Chen's wife, previously the principal defendant in the case accused of soliciting bribes in collusion with co-defendant Yu Cheng-hsien, then the Minister of the Interior, was convicted on the less serious charge of securing illegal benefits. Yu had been previously convicted and sentenced.

Chen Shui-bian, who was in the dock today, shook hands with his lawyer and was caught with a suggestion of a self-confident smile on his face after he heard the verdicts.