Tue, Mar 05, 2002 - Page 1 News List

Former first lady has day in court

LAWSUIT Tseng Wen-hui testified against former New Party lawmakers in a hearing for her slander suit, saying she did not try to leave the country after the 2000 presidential election

STAFF WRITER , WITH AP AND AFP

Former first lady Tseng Wen-hui, center, is accompanied by her lawyer and bodyguards during a break in proceedings at the Taipei District Court yesterday.

PHOTO: GEORGE TSORNG, TAIPEI TIMES

Former first lady Tseng Wen-hui (曾文惠) yesterday testified against two former lawmakers who accused her of fleeing Taiwan with suitcases stuffed with embezzled cash after her husband's party lost a presidential election two years ago.

Tseng -- the wife of former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) -- said she never tried to take to New York US$85 million (NT$2.98 billion) in cash stuffed into 54 suitcases, as her accusers alleged.

"My client categorically denies the allegations. She said she would never do anything to betray this land and its people," her attorney said.

The 77-year-old Tseng told the court she was at home watching television on March 19, 2000 -- not flying to New York. She said she also spent the following days at home, the TVBS station reported.

Tseng has filed a slander lawsuit against the two former New Party lawmakers Elmer Fung (馮滬祥) and Hsieh Chi-ta (謝啟大).

The pair have claimed the former first lady traveled to New York carrying US$85 million in cash on March 19 but that she was denied entry by New York customs agents.

Tseng yesterday reportedly told the court that except for March 21, when the whole family visited her son's grave since it was the 20th anniversary of his death -- she stayed at home between election day and March 23. She said she was busy preparing to move out of the presidential residence and that she also spent the time watching television coverage of the election.

March 23 was Tseng's first public appearance after the elections, when she was seen playing golf.

Yesterday was the first time a former first lady appeared in court. Tseng was accompanied by 24 people and a special visitor's area was created for her entourage. Tseng was also given access to two adjacent courtrooms so that she could rest before the hearing began.

The heavily-guarded courtroom was packed with supporters from both sides who traded insults before the hearing began.

Tseng's supporters yelled, "Go back to China," to the backers of the two pro-unification lawmakers.

The court hearing lasted more than six hours and at one point Tseng broke down in tears from exhaustion, TVBS cable news said.

After listening to Tseng's arguments, Hsieh -- a former judge -- said that Tseng has yet to clear doubts that she could have fled to the US with suitcases full of cash.

"For three-and-a-half days no one saw Tseng. Eighty-eight hours is plenty of time to fly to New York and come back," Hsieh said.

Fung said he first made the information public because other lawmakers had heard the same rumors about Lee's wife and that as a public representative he needed to raise the accusations.

Fung and Hsieh lost their legislative seats in elections last December. A verdict is expected on March 26.

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