The corruption trial of former Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian began Thursday, a case that has gripped the island nation for months and one in which a conviction can bring life imprisonment.
The trial is the first for a former head of state in Taiwan. Chen has denied wrongdoing and has said the charges are politically motivated. Prosecutors say Chen embezzled 600 million New Taiwan dollars (U.S.$17.7 million), took bribes, laundered money and illegally removed classified documents from the president’s office. Chen has countered that the bribe money was actually political donations. He has also said that a special presidential fund from which he is accused of embezzling does not clearly say what the money can and cannot be used for. Thirteen others, including Chen’s wife, son, daughter-in-law and brother-in-law, have been indicted in the case. Prosecutors said Chen’s son has a Swiss bank account with $22 million they believe to be illegal proceeds.
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The challenge for prosecutors is to prove that Chen handed out political favors in exchange for money. The former president has said he is being persecuted politically by his successor. Chen’s party favors independence for Taiwan. His successor, President Ma Ying-jeou, favors closer ties with mainland China.