Taiwan court cuts ex-president's life sentence

Taiwan's High Court on Friday reduced the life sentence of former president Chen Shui-bian to 20 years on graft and money-laundering charges.

Taiwan court cuts ex-president's life sentence

Taiwan's High Court on Friday reduced the life sentence of former president Chen Shui-bian, a fiery advocate of the island's independence from China, to 20 years on graft and money-laundering charges.

Analysts said the ruling could calm a divided public.

The ruling in Taiwan's first criminal case against a former president scales back a lower court conviction last year on counts involving about $20 million that prosecutors say was illegally taken by Chen and his wife.

Chen, in jail since late 2008 pending trial, rejects the charges and calls them politically motivated, his private foundation said. He plans to appeal again to the Supreme Court, his last chance to overturn the verdict.

The ruling against Chen could affect support for the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which backed the former president when he was in office from 2000 to 2008.

The DPP faces tough local elections at the end of the year against the ruling China-friendly Nationalists, polls seen as a bellwether for the 2012 presidential race.

"This is very good tool for the government to step up pressure on the DPP," said Chen Song-shan, director of the ex-president's private foundation.

But the reduced sentence should calm a politically divided public, said Liu Yi-jiun, professor at Fo Guang University.

"A judgment of 20 years, the rank and file and the different parties in Taiwan can just take it," Liu said.

The Taipei District Court was roundly criticised after sentencing the ex-president to life in prison plus a fine of T$200 million ($6.2 million), with some suspecting that the government had influenced the ruling.

Chen Shui-bian was charged with embezzling from a special government fund, taking bribes and laundering millions overseas.

In office, he angered China with his pursuit of formal independence for Taiwan, a self-ruled island over which Beijing has claimed sovereignty since 1949. His rhetoric upset the United States, Taiwan's staunchest informal ally, as it urged Taiwan and China to make peace.

The high court also reduced former first lady Wu Shu-chen's previous life sentence to 20 years for many of the same charges. Chen's foundation initially said she had been sentenced to 14 years.

Reuters

Last Mod: 11 Haziran 2010, 11:49
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