Although apologizing for harming the nation's image, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) refused to concede ground to his critics, but he offered few new insights into an alleged corruption scandal involving him, his wife and three top aides.
In a televised address carried live on the nation's news stations, the president gave a lengthy speech in which he defended his conduct, saying he had done nothing wrong.
The scandal rocked the political establishment when first lady Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍) and three presidential aides were indicted on Friday for various charges related to corruption, with prosecutors saying they had also collected enough evidence to bring charges against Chen. However, the president enjoys legal immunity to prosecution while in office.
Nevertheless, Chen said that he would step down if his wife were found guilty of corruption and forgery charges in the first trial, and would not wait until the legal process -- which traditionally requires at least two rounds of appeal before a conviction -- was complete.
Prosecutors outlined the evidence they had compiled against the president and his wife when they brought charges on Friday, saying they detected fraud and graft in relation to a "state affairs fund."
In his speech, Chen did not rebut the bulk of the details that have emerged. Instead, he said he was a victim of circumstance who was unable to provide details that would exonerate him for the sake of national security.
"For the sake of national security, I cannot disclose sensitive and classified information to prosecutors," Chen said. "I believe the judicial system will eventually prove my innocence and history will clear my name."
He claimed that a "Person A" was the recipient of the funds in question, and that he could not reveal the person's identity because doing so would put the individual in danger of being caught by China.
Prosecutors have said that they are not satisfied with this explanation, saying that they had evidence "Person A" was not in Taiwan when the receipts were submitted.
Although he offered little evidence to defend himself, Chen went into lengthy detail about a "lack of motive." He outlined four reasons that he said showed it did not make sense for him to have embezzled NT$14.8 million (about US$449,000) over the past five years.
First, Chen said that he had halved his monthly salary from NT$840,000 to NT$420,000, saving taxpayers NT$44 million (US$1.38 million) during his two terms.
Second, Chen said that former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) had had the secret "Fengtien (奉天) fund" at his disposal, amounting to NT$110 million from 1994 to 2000. Chen, on the other hand, said he had returned the secret "Fengtien fund," "Dangyang (當陽) fund" and other accounts to the state's coffers in January 2002.
If he had given up the NT$110 million fund, he asked, why would he embezzle NT$14.8 million?
Chen said that NT$42 million of the "state affairs fund" had been used to pay a lobbying firm and Chinese democracy activists, and that he could produce receipts for NT$12 million to prove it. If he wanted to embezzle money, Chen said, he could have pocketed the remaining NT$30 million.
Chen said he had used receipts to claim reimbursements from the "state affairs fund" from 2001 until this year, and the audit bureaus had never complained. Why, he asked, had prosecutors now decided that he and the Presidential Office could not do this?
Chen said prosecutors were to question Wu again last Wednesday. Wu sent a fax to the prosecutors' office on Oct. 31, requesting that it push the date back to yesterday because of her poor health.
There was no response, he said.
"Little did we expect to see the indictment so soon," he said.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) spokesman Huang Yu-cheng (黃玉振) last night said that the KMT could not accept Chen's explanation.
Democratic Progressive Party Chairman Yu Shyi-kun also held a press conference, saying the party supported Chen's remarks.
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