Taiwan ex-president gets extra jail term

TAIPEI - Taiwan's ex-leader Chen Shui-bian - who is already in jail for corruption - was given an additional 18-year sentence on Thursday for his role in a financial scandal, a high court spokesman said.

Chen, who was president between 2000 and 2008, is already serving a jail term of 17 years and six months on two bribery convictions in sprawling corruption cases that saw his wife Wu Shu-chen get the same sentence.

In a separate financial case, a district court cleared Chen and his wife last year of accepting bribes to facilitate two high-profile bank mergers, citing lack of evidence.

But the high court on Thursday reversed the lower court's verdict, finding Chen guilty of abusing "his influence as president" and accepting bribes from the banks to facilitate the mergers, a spokesman said.

The high court sentenced him to 18 years in prison, he added.

The wheelchair-bound Wu - who is paralysed from the waist down and has been spared from serving previous sentences due to poor health - was also given a 11-year sentence in the same case.

The couple is expected to appeal the ruling.

Chen and family members have been accused in a complex network of cases that say they sent political donations and secret diplomatic funds abroad, laundered millions of US dollars and took kickbacks on government contracts.

Chen is the first former Taiwanese president to stand trial, which has been watched with intense interest by the island of 23 million, but it has also triggered disillusion with politics in the young democracy.

Chen, who favours the island's independence from China, has dismissed the legal action against him as a political vendetta by the Beijing-friendly government of his successor Ma Ying-jeou.

But he has admitted that his wife wired some of his political donations abroad without his prior knowledge and apologised.