Mon, May 08, 2006 - Page 3 News List

Newsmaker: Embattled first lady just wants to live her own life

THE WU WE KNOW Wu Shu-jen has faced growing allegations of impropriety in recent weeks, but those close to the president's wife have defended her character

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

First lady Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍) has been hard pressed over the past few weeks to defend herself against a spate of allegations ranging from political improprieties to financial irregularities.

Wu has been under fire for alleged improprieties with her investments after putting her assets and those of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) into trust in 2004.

Fundamentally, there is no law in place restricting the first lady from using her own money to make more money. However, in a bid to put the rumors to bed, the first family has announced that it will donate a total of NT$4 million (US$125,300) to eight charities and disadvantaged groups.

The Presidential Office made public the details of Wu's profits from selling her stocks and mutual fund holdings as promised, hoping to end weeks of controversy caused by her investments.

Wu was also accused of having illegally received Sogo Department Store gift vouchers as a token of appreciation for her involvement in the company's controversial transfer of operational control.

To prove her innocence, Wu has filed a private criminal complaint against the accuser.

Chen himself has also put his career on the line, saying that he was willing to step down if his wife or any member of the first family had improperly received and used the gift vouchers.

The Presidential Office dismissed an allegation that Wu was involved in a proposed personnel reshuffle at state-run Taiwan Fertilizer Co last year. They said Wu knew nothing about the matter, nor was she involved in it.

Born into a well-off family in Madou, Tainan County, in 1952, Wu did not know her life would take such a dramatic turn after she met Chen in high school. Despite her family's objections, Wu married Chen in February 1975.

While the couple thought they would live a peaceful life with Chen practicing law, the 1979 "Kaohsiung Incident" forever altered their destiny and changed the course of Taiwan's democracy movement.

Wu encouraged Chen to commit himself to Taiwan's democratic development and supported his volunteering to defend Huang Hsin-chieh (黃信介), one of the accused in the "Kaohsiung Incident." Huang went on to become Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman in 1988 and won re-election the following year.

Chen quit his law practice to enter politics in 1981 when he was elected as a Taipei City councilor. In 1985, Chen lost the Tainan County commissioner election and shortly thereafter, Wu was crippled when she was run over three times by a three-wheeled truck.

In 1986, not long after Wu was discharged from hospital and at a time when she desperately needed the support of her family, Chen was sentenced to one year in prison for libel. That same year, Wu ran in the legislative election and won. When Chen was released in February 1987, he served as Wu's legislative assistant until he himself was elected as a legislator in 1989.

In September 2002, the US House of Representatives invited Wu to Capitol Hill, where she was awarded the "Democracy Service Medal" by the National Endowment for Democracy. Later that year, Wu received the International Excellence in Leadership Award from the Canadian Paraplegic Association. It marked the first time ever the honor was awarded to a non-Canadian. In 2003, Wu was selected as one of the inspirational "Asian Heroes" in the April 28 issue of Time magazine.

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