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Taiwan ex-president arrested in graft probe
Wed Nov 12, 2008 12:47am EST
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By Ralph Jennings
TAIPEI (Reuters) - Former Taiwan president Chen Shui-bian, a strong advocate of independence from China, was formally arrested on Wednesday over money-laundering allegations he has described as political persecution.
Chen, 57, president from 2000 to 2008, was detained on Tuesday after being questioned for most of the day.
Following a night of deliberation, the Taipei District Court arrested Chen and sent him to jail on suspicion of graft, bribery, forgery, money laundering and illegal possession of state assets, the court said. Chen denies the charges.
Chen's arrest -- the first of a former president in Taiwan -- and suspicion surrounding others in the case has cast a shadow over his Democratic Progressive Party, now the main opposition party after its landslide defeat in legislative and presidential elections earlier this year.
The party backed him until he left it in August.
"The court, after questioning the suspect, believes the suspected crimes to be severe," the district court said.
"And there are enough facts to believe there was buried evidence, fabrication, altered evidence and conspiracy among suspects or witnesses," it said in a statement.
Chen has cast himself as a victim in the case, saying the aggressive investigation is the result of behind-the-scenes pressure from the ruling Nationalist Party (KMT), whose policy of closer ties with China contrasts sharply contentious cross-strait relations under Chen's administration.
The list of suspected crimes merge two cases, one involving misuse of a confidential state affairs fund and the other related to money laundering, a prosecutor's spokesman said. Family members and former aides are also being probed.
The former first family is suspected of sending at least T$1 billion ($30.4 million) to Japan, the United States, the Cayman Islands, Singapore and Switzerland, among other places, local media have reported. The prosecutor's spokesman declined to confirm the amount.
Photos of Chen filled the front pages of newspapers on Wednesday, his hands raised in the air to show handcuffs as he left the prosecutor's office the day before.
"He's spoken his viewpoint that this is political persecution and a political plot to get him," his lawyer, Cheng Wen-lung, told reporters after the formal arrest.
But some analysts disagreed.
"They must have hard evidence, and it will hurt the DPP's image for sure," said George Tsai, a political science professor at Chinese Culture University in Taipei.
"I don't know if it will cause social unrest or not," Tsai said. "We might see minor demonstrations." Continued...
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