In May 2008, Taiwanese prosecutors launched a corruption probe against Chen Shui-bian hours after he completed his second term as Taiwan’s president. Prosecutors are looking into whether he embezzled money while serving as president and whether his family members and aides were involved in laundering millions of dollars worth of campaign funds. About a dozen high-ranking members of Chen’s party—the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)—were detained on charges related to corruption after the Kuomintang (KMT), or Nationalist Party, regained the presidency in the May 2008 elections. Critics of the KMT said the charges were politically motivated. Chen’s wife, son, daughter and brother- in-law were also charged with corruption. Analysts said arrests have highlighted problems with Taiwanese law and the country's judicial system.

Associated Press reported: “The Supreme Prosecutors Office, which reports directly to the Supreme Court, said in a statement that Chen was being investigated for his role in the handling of a special presidential fund used to pursue Taiwan's foreign diplomacy. "The office has assigned ... a seven-member investigative unit to take charge of the case," it said. The investigation relates the alleged embezzlement of $484,000. Chen's wife was indicted in December 2006 over the fund's handling. At the time, prosecutors said Chen could be indicted once he left office, ending his presidential immunity. [Source: Associated Press, May 20, 2008]

“The probe is a further blow to Chen's legacy, already in tatters over the indictment of several members of his inner circle on graft charges, and the conviction of his son-in-law for insider trading. Taiwanese analysts agree that the atmosphere of corruption pervading the Chen administration was a major reason behind the defeat of his Democratic Progressive Party in legislative and presidential elections 2008. March. Chen was replaced by Ma Ying-jeou, who used his inaugural address to pledge himself to clean politics and public accountability.

Chen called his prosecution a political witch hunt to punish him for angering China with his moves to push for Taiwan independence while he was in office from 2000 to 2008. He alleged that other officials who have misspent funds or taken bribes have not been prosecuted. In addition, the Taipei Times reported: “Chen Shui-bian’s office criticized the judiciary for leaking details of the case and expressed regret over media reports that the office said distorted the facts. In a statement, the office expressed displeasure with leaks of what had been said by witnesses in interviews and suggested that prosecutors might have deliberately leaked the information to reporters. “We would like to call on the public to stop and condemn such an act,” the statement said. The office also criticized media outlets that they said had drawn false conclusions and distorted the testimony of witnesses.”

Paul Mooney wrote in The National, Chen “Although some analysts said there was no evidence to prove the KMT was behind the arrests, critics said they were indeed political. "It has all the appearances of being politically motivated," said Gerrit van der Wees, of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs in Washington, an organisation dedicated to protecting the right to self-determination for the people of Taiwan. "Only DPP members have been detained and arrested and there are no cases proceeding against KMT members. And that's very strange." June Teufel Dreyer, a professor of political science at the University of Miami, said, "The arrests are so widespread and seem to be purposely carried out to humiliate people, and to my mind there is no doubt they were politically motivated." [Source: Paul Mooney, The National, November 18, 2008]

“Some of those arrested have connections with the use of a special state fund used to engage in "money diplomacy". Most prominent is Chiou I-jen, a former National Security Council secretary general and former deputy prime minister. Ms Dreyer said the funds were established to counter what she calls Beijing's "attempt to squeeze Taiwan out of existence". "What you have here is not so much Chiou being corrupt, but being put into a position where fighting back is not possible except by using bribery," she said. Other people who know Mr Chiou were surprised at his arrest. "Anyone that knows him knows that he leads a very simple life that is politically orientated," said Bruce Jacobs, a professor of Asian languages and studies at Monash University in Melbourne. "The [diplomacy] policy may have been stupid, but I can't believe he was fundamentally corrupt." Mr Van der Wees said some of those arrested were questioned for hours without a lawyer and were "squeezed for information that could be used in their indictment later.

Chen Shui-bian Son and In-Laws Admit Money Laundering

In December 2006, Chen’s son-in-law was sentenced to six years in prison for insider trading. The China Daily reported: “Chao Chien-ming, a doctor suspended by the Taiwan University Hospital over the scandal, was also fined 30 million Taiwan dollars (US$917,000) following the verdict by a court in Taipei. He was convicted of making gains valued at 4.27 million Taiwan dollars (US$131,000) through the illegal deal, said Liu Shou-song of the Taipei district court. Chao's father Chao Yu-chu was sentenced to five and a half years in prison in the same case and was given a further three years in jail for embezzling 11 million Taiwan dollars (US$336,000) in private donations to a tennis association and some political funds donated to the "president." He was also fined 30 million Taiwan dollars, Liu said. [Source: China Daily, December 28, 2006]

In January 2009, Chen Shui-bian’s son, Chen Chih-chung, daughter-in-law, Huang Jui-ching, and former first lady Wu Shu-jen’s brother, Wu Ching-mao, told a judge during a pre-trial hearing at the Taipei District Court that they might have been involved in money laundering. The China Post reported: “A judge has to accept a statement before it can constitute a formal plea, a court spokesman said. “I didn’t differentiate clearly between laundering money and handling funds,” Chen Chih-chung told reporters in the lobby of the court building after the two-hour hearing. Standing next to his wife, who choked back tears, he said: “If it could be done all over, we absolutely would not make the same kind of mistake again.” “I am very sorry about the whole thing. My wife and I will do whatever we can to help prosecutors clarify the details of the case,” Chen Chih-chung told reporters. [Source: China Post, January 22, 2009 ]

In November 2009, AFP reported: “Information from the Swiss authorities indicates that the son of Taiwan’s convicted ex-president played a ‘leading role’ in laundering US$21 million (S$29 million), a newspaper reported. In 2008, Taiwan prosecutors sought Swiss help with their probe into allegations that the Chen family illegally wired abroad and deposited US$21 million in Swiss bank accounts.‘After a year, the Swiss authorities delivered to Taiwan a box of information regarding the bank accounts,’ the China Times said. An initial review of the related documents indicate that Chen Chih-chung had played a leading role in laundering the money,’ it said, adding that prosecutors hoped this would give them solid evidence to challenge the appeal. [Source: AFP, November 22, 2009]

Trial of Chen Shui-ban ‘s Wife

In February 2009, Wu Shu-chen, Chen Shui-ban’s wife and the former Taiwanese first lady, pleaded guilty to money-laundering and forgery but denied embezzlement charges in her high-profile corruption case. The BBC reported: “Wu Shu-chen said she had accepted a $2.2m (£1.5m) political donation in connection with a land purchase deal — not a bribe as alleged by prosecutors. She admitted charges of forging documents in a separate case but denied using the money for personal gain. It was the first time Wu Shu-chen had appeared in court for two years. She was indicted in 2006 for allegedly embezzling 14.8m Taiwan dollars ($440,000) in public funds. But she collapsed at the start of her trial later that year and has been excused from attending court sessions on health grounds. [Source: BBC, February 10, 2009]

In January 2009, Chen Chih-chung (Chen Shui-ban’ son) told judges that Wu Shu-jen possesses a large quantity of jewels worth at least NT$600 million. The jewels are in the care of a friend of Wu Shu-jen’s in Japan, he said. “These jewels will be shipped back to Taiwan as soon as possible,” he said. Chen Chih-chung said that Wu Shu-jen would donate all the money to charity if investigations proved the money was clean. “We apologize to the public. My mother also told me to inform your honors that she will try to attend every hearing,” Chen Chih-chung said in court. [Source: China Post, January 22, 2009]

Chen Shui-bian Goes on Hunger Strike After Being Detained

In November 2008, Chen Shui-bian was detained by police in Taipei after prosecutors sought his formal arrest on corruption and money laundering charges, according to Taipei television. David Barboza wrote in the New York Times, “Mr. Chen was led to court in handcuffs. He paused briefly before cameras, raised his arms up over his head and shouted: “Long Live Taiwanese independence” and “political oppression.” The detention was part of a widening corruption investigation that has already ensnared several of Mr. Chen’s senior aides, as well as his wife, son, daughter and brother- in-law, each of whom has been named a defendant in the case. Mr. Chen’s wife is now on trial in Taipei for money laundering. [Source: David Barboza, New York Times, November 11, 2008]

Chen was held without charge pending further investigations. “Mr. Chen, 57, has denied any wrongdoing and accused his successor, Ma Ying-jeou, and the ruling Koumintang Party of a politically motivated attack on him and his family and suggested that his strong support for Taiwan’s independence , behind the investigation. Mr. Ma succeeded Mr. Chen in May and has pushed for warmer relations between mainland China and Taiwan.

After he was taken into custody Chen went on hunger strike, his lawyer said. The BBC reported: “Cheng Wen-lung said his client had not eaten since being sent to Tucheng jail in suburban Taipei early. He said his client wanted to "protest the death of justice". Mr Chen, who has not yet been formally charged, says he is being persecuted by his successors for his fierce opposition to closer ties with Beijing. But that charge has been flatly denied by both the Chinese government and by Taiwan's current President Ma Ying-jeou, of the Nationalist Kuomingtang party (KMT). [Source: BBC, November 13, 2008]

Mr Chen was dramatically handcuffed and detained by prosecutors and sent to jail, since when he has not eaten, Mr Cheng said. He wants to "protest the death of justice and the regression of democracy", Mr Cheng said, according to the AP news agency. "He opposed the authoritarian [Nationalist] regime in Taiwan and the Communist regime [in China] and he wants sovereignty for Taiwan," Mr Cheng added. He added that his client was in an "OK" condition for the time being. Mr Chen could face up to four months in detention without charge to prevent him colluding with alleged conspirators. He is accused of money laundering and illegally using a special presidential fund. But his supporters say his detention represents a breach to his human rights. As of May 2009, Chen was still detained. At that time had launched another hunger strike.

Chen Shui-bian's Trial

Chen was indicted on December 12, 2008—seven months after he stepped down as president— on money laundering, corruption and forgery charges involving nearly half a billion Taiwan dollars, becoming the first former president in Taiwan's history to be put on trial for criminal offenses. The China Post reported: Chen Shui-bian and his wife Wu Shu-jen “were indicted on charges of embezzling NT$104 million (US$3 million) from a special presidential fund. They are also accused of accepting NT$100 million in bribes and US$6 million in connection with a land procurement deal, as well as US$2.73 million in kickbacks to help a contractor win the tender for a government construction project. Chen pleaded not guilty to charges of receiving bribes. Chen family members have acknowledged wiring millions of dollars overseas in violation of Taiwan’s financial regulations, but have insisted that the money represented political contributions, not bribes. [Source: China Post, January 22, 2009]

In March 2009, Chen Shui-ban’s corruption trial opened in a heavily guarded Taipei courtroom, hours after Chen said the proceedings were a “tool for political suppression and persecution” by his successor. Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times, “Mr. Chen, who claimed the presidency in 2000 with a pledge to end political corruption, faces charges of bribery and embezzlement that could draw a sentence of life in prison. He resigned from Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party in August 2008 after admitting that his wife had wired 700 million Taiwanese dollars ($21 million) in campaign funds to accounts in Singapore, the Cayman Islands and Switzerland. Prosecutors since have charged that he stole or took bribes totaling more than a billion Taiwanese dollars ($30 million), sometimes in return for political favors involving land deals. His wife, Wu Shu-chen, his son and his daughter-in-law pleaded guilty to money laundering, and Mrs. Wu also pleaded guilty to forgery. [Source: Michael Wines, New York Times, March 26, 2009 /*/]

Mr. Chen was brought to court in Taipei surrounded by guards and in handcuffs. Although the evidence against Mr. Chen is strong, some analysts have said, the government’s handling of the case has been less than deft. Prosecutors were criticized after they participated in a skit before hundreds of Justice Ministry officials which clearly mocked Mr. Chen. Mr. Chen has won sympathy by claiming that his detention without bail — and, at first, without any contact with his family — has been unjustly harsh. /*/

Chen has insisted that he is innocent, saying his wife, then Taiwan’s first lady, handled campaign money and that he was ignorant of the dealings. He has maintained the charges are a plot by Taiwan’s current president, Ma Ying-jeou, to win favor with China’s government. The trial opened with testimony from a businessman who said he had arranged a Taipei land deal in which the land’s owner offered Ms. Wu a $11.8 million “commission” in 2003 to push the government to purchase the property. Mr. Chen testified that he knew his wife had received 200 million Taiwanese dollars for the sale, but he denied that the businessman, Tsai Ming-chieh, had talked to him about it.” /*/

The China Post reported: “Prosecutors accused Chen and Wu of taking bribes of NT$310 million (US$9.47 million) from two local business tycoons. One of them is Diana Chen, the former chairwoman of Taipei 101 tower; the other is Jeffrey Koo Jr., former vice chairman of the Chinatrust Financial Holding Co. Prosecutors said in their indictment that Diana Chen delivered a check of NT$10 million under the name of a friend — Chen Chin-wen — to Wu Shu-jen's brother Wu Jin-mao in 2004. In return for the money, prosecutors said, Chen Shui-bian abused his power to press then-Finance Minister Lin Chuan to appoint Diana Chen as the chairwoman of the state-controlled Grand Cathay Securities Corp. The then-finance minister named Diana Chen to head the Taipei 101 instead because of difficulties in convincing major stock holders of Grand Cathay to accept her at the time. [Source: China Post, September 11, 2009 |=|]

“Furthermore, prosecutors said the former first couple had asked for political contributions from Jeffrey Koo Jr. since 2002 under the pretext that the money would be used to help finance Chen's election campaigns or the country's secret diplomatic activities. Koo, who often visited the first family at their official residence at the time, had delivered NT$290 million in seven contributions to the first family. Koo fled to Japan in 2007 after being probed for insider trading in an unrelated case and was asked by Chen Shui-bian for more contributions under the excuse of helping with the then ruling Democratic Progressive Party's unsuccessful 2008 presidential election, according to the indictment. As a result, Koo made a donation of NT$10 million to Chen, for which the prosecutors said the ex-president and his wife should face a charge of exacting illegal profit. Jeffrey Koo Jr. and Diana Chen were not charged in the case. |=|

“The money came to light thanks to the Egmont Group, an international anti-money laundering group, which alerted Taiwanese authorities to the ex-first family's overseas bank accounts in 2008. The case has mushroomed into a political scandal, as more local business tycoons were found to have made huge contributions to Chen, allegedly in return for the ex-president's favors. |=|

Chen Shui-ban and Wife Given Life Sentences

Chen received a life sentence, a fine of NT$200 million (approximately US$6.1 million), and had his civil rights annulled for life. His wife received a nearly identical sentence, albeit with a larger fine (NT$300 million). His son was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison and fined NT$150 million, while his daughter-in-law received one year and eight months while being fined the same amount. Other members of Chen’s staff received lengthy jail terms, with the exception of an accountant who turned state’s evidence. A prisoner serving a life sentence has the opportunity of being granted parole after spending 15 years in jail. Chen has been detained in a suburban Taipei jail since December 2008.[Source: Paul R Katz, China Beat, September 15, 2009]

In June 2010, a Taiwan court acquitted Chen of embezzling from a special diplomatic fund. Associated Press reported: “In the ruling, the Taipei District Court says prosecutors failed to provide evidence that Chen Shui-bian gave $330,000 to son Chen Chih-chung while he was studying in the United States. In November 2010, a court acquitted of Chen of charges that he took bribes from two bankers. Associated Press reported: “The Taipei District Court said in its ruling Friday there was no evidence showing Chen took 600 million New Taiwan dollars ($20 million) in exchange for promises not to block the bankers’ separate merger initiatives. [Source: Associated Press, November 5, 8, 2010; [Source: Associated Press, June 8, 2010]

In August 2012, AFP reported: “Taiwan's high court cleared former president Chen Shui-bian of one charge of instigating perjury in the latest legal victory for the jailed ex-leader. Chen was accused of instructing a top aide to give false statements to prosecutors during an investigation into the sprawling corruption allegations against him stemming from his 2000-2008 presidency. However, Chen was found not guilty as some of the aide's statements were proven true while others were either deemed irrelevant or not instigated by Chen, a court statement said. The verdict is the latest victory for the ex-leader, who is serving a prison term of 17 years and six months on two bribery convictions, with more trials pending on other charges. In June, a district court rejected a compensation claim against him in a land purchase deal and he was acquitted of misusing diplomatic funds in a separate case in 2011. [Source: Agence France-Presse, August 17, 2012]

In June 2010, Taiwan's High Court rejected former President Chen Shui-bian's appeal of his conviction on corruption charges, but cut his life sentence to 20 years and upheld the conviction of former first lady Wu Shu-chen but reduced her own life sentence to 14 years. A that point Chen has been incarcerated in a suburban Taipei jail for 17 months. Following the decision, Chen appealled to the Supreme Court. The High Court also considered a separate request by Chen to be released. That request was rejected two weeks later when his detention order expired. [Source: Associated Press, June 11, 2010]

In August 2011, Chen Shui-ban was given an additional sentence for money-laundering and forgery. The BBC reported: The extra term of two years and eight months was imposed after a retrial at Taiwan's high court, in which Chen was acquitted of another corruption charge. In this latest case, Chen was initially found guilty of embezzling some $5m (£3m) from a special presidential fund while he was in power. But the Supreme Court ordered a retrial last November, citing insufficient evidence.Now Taiwan's High Court has acquitted Chen of the charge. The court, however, found him guilty of money laundering and forging documents, and handed down the additional two-year sentence. That brings his overall sentence to about 20 years. Wu Shu-chen, received a longer sentence of nearly 12 years at the retrial, but she is unlikely to spend any time in prison because of her poor health. [Source: BBC, August 26, 2011]

In December 2012, Taiwan’s Supreme Court gave Chen a 10-year term and his wife eight years for graft in connection with the Yuanta-Fuhwa merger. The Taipei Times and AFP reported: “Chen was convicted of accepting NT$200 million (US$6.9 million) in bribes in connection with Yuanta Financial Holding Co’s merger with Fuhwa Financial Holding Co and sentenced to another 10 years, the Supreme Court said in a statement. Chen, 62, is currently serving an 18-and-a-half year term for corruption and money-laundering. By law, an individual can serve only a maximum of 20 years in prison unless a life term is imposed. Chen’s wife, Wu Shu-jen, already sentenced to 19 years and two months on four convictions for charges including corruption and perjury, was sentenced to eight years in jail. [Source: Taipei Times, AFP, December 21, 2012 /*]

Chen Shui-ban Attempts Suicide After Being Transferred to Prison Hospital

In April 2013, Chen Shui-bian was transferred from Taipei Veterans General Hospital to Taichung Prison’s Pei Teh Hospital, where a special medical zone was set up for him to continue serving his 20-year jail term for corruption. According to the justice ministry, AFP reported, “Chen was taken to a hospital for inmates in central Taiwan from a public hospital in Taipei, where he had spent several months being treated for depression and other health problems, it said. Doctors have recommended home care for the 62-year-old, who is diagnosed with severe depression, a nerve disorder and other conditions, according to medical documents released by his office.” [Source: AFP, April 19, 2013]

“The ministry said in a statement that home care is not an option for inmates, while Chen does not qualify for immediate parole on medical grounds as he can receive necessary treatment at the prison hospital. Some of Chen's supporters were angry and accused the government of President Ma Ying-jeou of making a politically-motivated decision to deny him medical parole. "The Ma administration's abrupt move was harmful to Chen's health and his human rights. It also violated professional media judgement," said Lee Chun-yee, a spokesman for the opposition Democratic Progressive Party that Chen once led.” [Ibid]

In June 2013, the Ministry of Justice said Chen tried to hang himself by tying a towel to a bathroom fitting at a prison hospital in Greater Taichung, but was stopped by a prison caretaker Rich Chang and Chris Wang wrote in the Taipei Times, “ Deputy Minister of Justice Chen Ming-tang said that Chen was distraught that public funds could now be spent legally in hostess bars, while the courts had found his use of them for diplomatic projects to have been a criminal offense. Chen Shui-bian was apparently referring to former independent legislator Yen Ching-piao, who was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison for the misuse of public funds in hostess bars during his term as Taichung County Council speaker, but who may be released from jail once an amendment to the Accounting Act is promulgated. [Source: Rich Chang and Chris Wang, Taipei Times, June 4, 2013]

Did Chen Shui-bian Get a Fair Trial?

Keith Bradsher wrote in the New York Times, Chen Shui-ban’s “case has emerged as a difficult test of a society that has emerged as one of the freest, most vibrant democracies in Asia. A panel of judges must decide the fate of Taiwan’s single most divisive politician, Mr. Chen, who insists that he is innocent. Mr. Chen’s case has been widely reported in mainland China, where Beijing officials reviled him for seeking greater independence for Taiwan during his eight years as president. So the unusual public discussion in Taiwan over the treatment of Mr. Chen since he left office could influence the evolving debate on the mainland over whether to strengthen the legal rights of individuals under criminal investigation. “It has put criminal justice, especially criminal procedure, on the map in Taiwan, and this is something that would be wonderful to see on the mainland,” said Jerome A. Cohen, a law professor at New York University who specializes in the legal systems of Taiwan and the mainland. [Source: Keith Bradsher, New York Times, February 20, 2009 =]

“The case has prompted broader concerns about Taiwan’s legal code. Its detention and criminal procedure laws were drafted in the 1930s and early ‘40s by Chinese Nationalist legal scholars who mainly looked to Nazi Germany for ideas. The Nationalists lost China’s civil war to the Communists and retreated to Taiwan, which they ruled under martial law until 1987, but essentially the same laws remain on the books. The Justice Ministry now acknowledges shortcomings in the way the island treats those under investigation. “Some treatment maybe is not following international standards,” Mr. Wu said. =

“When Mr. Chen was first detained, he was held incommunicado without bail at a prisonlike government detention center for more than a month. He was forbidden to speak to anyone except his lawyer on the grounds that he might otherwise arrange for the destruction of evidence. When his lawyer, Jerry Cheng, did come to the detention center, their meetings were videotaped and two prosecutors sat in. Mr. Cheng said this had inhibited his client’s effort to develop a legal strategy. Mr. Chen is still in detention, but under less strict rules. Family members and legislators are now allowed to visit him. Prosecutors no longer attend or record his meetings with his defense lawyer, although two guards stay in the room during these meetings and the door must stay open, Mr. Cheng said. =

According to Associated Press: While most Taiwanese believe that Chen is guilty of at least some of the charges against him, critics say that the legal process has been partisan and unfair. They point to the replacement of the three-judge panel that originally ordered him released on his own recognizance, the selective leaking of negative material on Chen to the press, and a skit mocking the former leader mounted by Justice Ministry officials, including one of the prosecutors investigating his case. [Source: Associated Press, June 11, 2010]

At the conclusion of the Chen Shui-ban trial, Paul R Katz wrote in China Beat: “The first trial of former President Chen Shui-bian, some of his family members, and other defendants has run its course. At this point in time, the following questions seem worth consideration: Is Chen guilty? Difficult to answer convincingly unless one possesses the Chinese language skills and legal knowledge necessary to plough through all court documents, not to mention the 1,000+ page verdict (longer even than some doctoral theses at my alma mater Princeton). The case is clearly quite complicated, especially since Taiwan’s anti-corruption laws have been evolving over the past decade, meaning that some alleged crimes may not have been illegal when they were committed. However, at the very least Chen is guilty of misdeeds that have deeply disappointed and betrayed the trust of so many Taiwanese citizens who elected him President in 2000 and 2004. Even close supporters have issued calls for Chen and his family members to make public apologies for their actions. [Source: Paul R Katz, China Beat, September 15, 2009. Katz is a research fellow at the Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica, Taiwan, and an expert on Chinese religion -]

“Was the sentence too harsh? Hardly any Taiwanese politician found guilty of corruption has been condemned to such a lengthy prison term, while Chen’s wife and children are also facing long sentences and fines exceeding millions of US dollars. The Los Angeles Times called the sentence “unexpectedly stiff”, while the Associated Press noted that its severity has caused some to believe that Chen was being “…persecuted for his pro-independence views and his central role in ending the 50-year monopoly on power of the now-resurgent Nationalists.” -

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Last updated June 2015

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