Former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) is set to stay in prison for at least 11 years after the Supreme Court yesterday upheld a bribery conviction in a land purchase scandal.
Supporters of the former president said they were devastated by the ruling, which can no longer be appealed. Chen’s office called the verdict — which came just days after a local court cleared him in another bribery case — politically motivated.
In the verdict, the Supreme Court agreed with the lower court’s ruling that the former president and his wife, Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍), accepted bribes of up to NT$300 million (US$10 million) in return for helping facilitate a land deal between the government and a property development company.
The deal saw Taiwan Cement Corp (台泥) chairman Leslie Koo (辜成允), whose company was in financial difficulties at the time, pay the money to a close friend of the former first lady. In return, the former president pressured a government-run science park to rent and then purchase a plot of land in Taoyuan County that Koo managed, the ruling by the lower court said.
Koo had testified that the amount was originally given as commission, rather than a bribe.
In the unexpected decision made yesterday afternoon, the Supreme Court ruled that both Chen and his wife should serve 11 years in prison, a reduction of a year from the sentence handed down by the lower court, over their roles in the scandal and that they should each pay NT$150 million.
Tsai Ming-che (蔡銘哲), Wu’s friend who acted as the middleman in the case, was given an eight-month prison sentence, while former Hsinchu Science Park head James Lee (李界木) was handed a 42-month sentence.
In the same ruling, the court also sentenced Chen and his wife to eight years in prison for accepting a bribe of NT$10 million from former Taipei Financial Center Corp (台北金融大樓公司) chairwoman Diana Chen (陳敏薰) in exchange for helping her secure an appointment at a securities firm.
In that case, Wu was also handed a seven-month sentence for money laundering.
Diana Chen had insisted during the trial that the amount was given to the former first lady as a political donation for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) during Chen Shui-bian’s tenure as party chairman. Prosecutors said the NT$10 million was instead promptly wired overseas.
As of press time, it was still unclear whether the sentences would be served consecutively or concurrently.
Speaking to the press immediately following the ruling, in one of several suits the former president is fighting, Chen Shui-bian’s office secretary, Chiang Chih-ming (江志銘), said the ruling was politically motivated.
“Many of his [Chen Shui-bian’s] supporters have told me that they will not accept this verdict,” Chiang said.
Chen Sung-shan (陳淞山), Chen Shui-bian’s former office manager who last week visited the former president at the Taipei Detention Center, where the former president has been held since December 2008, said Chen Shui-bian had not expected the ruling to come so soon.
Just hours before the ruling was announced, Chen Shui-bian’s office had issued the latest version of the former president’s bi-monthly diary, in which he claimed he should be found innocent because both cases were unrelated to his presidential powers.
He wrote that the courts should not confuse his “moral responsibilities with his legal responsibilities,” adding that the ruling should be based on a strict definition of the law “and not according to what society wants.”
Commenting on the verdict, the former president’s son, Chen Chih-chung (陳致中), currently running for election to the Greater Kaohsiung council as an independent, called on the public to “show their anger” by voting against President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration in the upcoming special municipality elections.
Meanwhile, the Presidential Office, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) all said that they respected the court’s decision.
Declining to comment on whether the ruling would impact the upcoming elections, DPP spokesman Lin Yu-chang (林右昌) said that “both parties, regardless of color, have already learned to calmly and reasonably deal with Chen Shui-bian’s legal troubles.”
Yesterday’s ruling came a week after the Taipei District Court acquitted Chen Shui-bian on a separate case of taking NT$600 million for helping facilitate bank mergers. The Taipei District Court also cleared him of embezzling diplomatic funds in June. Prosecutors have said they will appeal both rulings.
Three other cases, including charges related to another land deal, money laundering and embezzling secret diplomatic funds, for which the Taiwan High Court originally ruled the former president should serve a 20-year sentence, were returned to the lower court by the Supreme Court for another ruling yesterday.