Citing insufficient proof, the Tapei District Court yesterday acquitted former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and his wife, Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍), of charges that they laundered money and took bribes from bankers in exchange for help manipulating bank mergers.
Nineteen co-defendants were also cleared of charges of money laundering, breach of trust and insider trading because of a lack of proof, Judge Chou Chan-chun (周占春) said yesterday afternoon.
Special Investigation Panel (SIP) prosecutors in December last year charged the defendants, alleging that the bankers bribed the former president into pressuring the Ministry of Finance (MOF) to approve mergers during the second phase of financial reforms by the Chen administration aimed at encouraging consolidation of the banking sector.
Chou said in the ruling that according to Anti-Corruption Act (貪汙治罪條例), a public official violates the law by taking bribes in exchange for decisions or policies in favor of the bribers, but according to the Constitution, the president’s duties do not include policies on bank mergers, so Chen was unable to receive money from banks to help their merger proposals.
Prosecutors had alleged that Chen and his wife took NT$600 million (US$19 million) from Cathay Financial Holding Co (國泰金控) and NT$200 million from Yuanta Securities Co (元大證券) as a “payment” to ensure the financial groups’ acquisitions of smaller financial institutions went smoothly.
During the trial that began in February, Chen repeatedly insisted on his innocence, saying that the money was taken by his wife without his knowledge or the knowledge of his children.
Wu said the funds she collected were not bribes, but campaign donations.
The ruling said that although Chen received the money, he was unable to use his presidential authority to decide merger plans and as such, the money should be seen as a political donation.
Chou’s ruling added that since the money the Chen family received was not a bribe, bank officials who later helped the family transfer the funds overseas therefore did not violate money laundering rules, because money laundering only takes place when transferring money resulting from crime or corruption.
As such, Chen’s daughter, Chen Hsing-yu (陳幸妤), his son, Chen Chih-chung (陳致中), and his daughter-in-law, Huang Jui-ching (黃睿靚), were also found not guilty of laundering money, as were Wu’s elder brother, Wu Ching-mao (吳景茂), and his wife, Chen Chun-ying (陳俊英).
The accused business executives, including Yuanta Financial Holding Co (元大金控) founder Rudy Ma (馬志玲), former Yuanta Securities Co board member Tu Li-ping (杜麗萍) and chairwoman Judy Tu (杜麗莊), former China Development Financial Holding Corp (中華開發金控) president Angelo Koo (辜仲瑩) and Cathay Financial Holdings Co vice chairman Tsai Chen-yu (蔡鎮宇) were also found not guilty.
Ma Yung-cheng (馬永成), a former top aide to Chen Shui-bian, was found not guilty of charges that he conspired with the former first couple to take bribes, while former presidential adviser Wu Li-pei (吳澧培) was also cleared in the court’s ruling.
Chen Shui-bian, currently appealing a 20-year jail sentence for multiple counts of corruption in a separate trial, has previously said that the legal action against him is a vendetta carried out by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government in retaliation for his pro-independence stance during his 2000 to 2008 presidential term.
Lawyer Cheng Wen-long (鄭文龍) told reporters that the former president found the ruling comforting.
SIP Spokesman Chen Hung-ta (陳宏達) said the “verdict is against the public’s concept of the law” and that prosecutors would appeal to the Taiwan High Court.