Taiwan’s defiant former president went on trial on corruption charges Thursday after angrily proclaiming that the new government is persecuting him to curry favor with rival China.
Chen Shui-bian, 58, faces possible life imprisonment if convicted on charges of embezzling 104 million New Taiwan dollars ($3.12 million) from a special presidential fund, receiving bribes worth at least $9 million in connection with a government land deal and laundering part of the funds by wiring the money to Swiss bank accounts.
He has repeatedly denied the charges, saying the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou is out to get him for his anti-China views.
There is also concern over the fairness of the case. From Michael Wines of the New York Times:
Although the evidence against Mr. Chen is strong, some analysts say the government’s handling of the case has been less than deft. Prosecutors were criticized after they participated in a skit before Justice Ministry officials that 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.
J. Bruce Jacobs, a Taiwan scholar at Monash University in Australia, is among about 20 experts who sent letters to Taiwan’s justice minister and President Ma raising concerns about the fairness of the prosecution.
“The prosecutors have been going a bit wild, and how this trial is conducted will be critical,” he said in a telephone interview on Thursday. “This is an important landmark in Taiwan’s whole process of democratization.”