Taiwanese President Denies He Stole Funds

Protesters watch TV news conference on which the president said missing money funded
Protesters watch TV news conference on which the president said missing money funded "secret diplomatic work." (By Vincent Yu -- Associated Press)
By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, November 6, 2006

TAIPEI, Nov. 5 -- Brushing aside demands that he resign immediately, President Chen Shui-bian declared Sunday night that he is innocent of corruption and said he would step down only if his wife is convicted in court on the embezzlement charges brought against her by Taiwan's public prosecutor.

Responding to the prosecutor's allegation that Chen was also involved in the corruption, the president said he did not steal any money but could not explain what happened to the funds in question because they went to finance "secret diplomatic work." The problem, he declared, was that regulations governing disbursement of certain secret funds were too complicated and ambiguous.

"How could you believe that Chen Shui-bian would embezzle money?" he asked Taiwanese during a speech broadcast live to Taiwan's 23 million people.

The president cannot be indicted while he is in office.

Chen's defiant stand set the stage for a high-stakes political struggle over impeachment proceedings in the Legislative Yuan, or parliament. The opposition Nationalist Party said it would bring a motion Monday to start the recall, opening what is likely to be weeks of acrimonious debate and political friction over the fate of Chen's already weakened presidency.

Premier Su Tseng-chang, a Chen appointee, held an emergency cabinet meeting earlier Sunday to discuss the possible impact on Taiwan's stock market and any risks to public order posed by the probability of anti-government street protests as the showdown plays out in the Legislative Yuan.

The future of Chen, a relentless nationalist who rode to power six years ago on a platform of clean government and Taiwanese independence, seemed to lie in the hands of his own Democratic Progressive Party. Only if a dozen or more of its 85 members of parliament vote for impeachment can the Nationalist motion gain the two-thirds majority it needs to pass.

The Nationalists have twice failed to win passage of similar recall motions as scandal allegations built up around Chen and his family during the past six months. But the chances for passage increased dramatically Friday when the prosecutor announced the indictment of Chen's wife, Wu Shu-chen, on charges of embezzling public funds using forged receipts and accused Chen of being involved as well.

Sunday evening's news conference was Chen's first response to the accusations, which have consumed public attention here over the past two days and opened new uncertainties for the 18 months remaining in his second term. A lawyer by training, Chen said the delay was necessary to allow him to study the indictment brought against his wife.

The party leadership has not yet decided on its stand because it was awaiting Chen's explanation, officials said. But even if leaders decide as a party to stick with Chen through the storm, analysts pointed out, some members could defect and vote with the Nationalists for a recall. Should the motion pass, under Taiwanese law it would then be submitted to the people in a referendum.

The two other main minority parties, the Taiwan Solidarity Union and the People First Party, have announced they will vote for a recall.

Acknowledging the damage to his presidency and to the cause of Taiwanese independence from China, as well as the disappointment felt by many of his followers, Chen apologized both to the Democratic Progressive Party and to inhabitants of the self-ruled island in general.

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