Taiwan's Chen Won't Appeal His Detention

By Jane Rickards
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, November 13, 2008

TAIPEI, Taiwan, Nov. 12 -- Former Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian, a passionate advocate of independence from China who has been imprisoned on suspicion of corruption, said Wednesday he would not appeal his detention, amid reports that he may be on a hunger strike.

Chen, who ruled Taiwan from 2000 until earlier this year, was locked up in a Taipei prison early Wednesday. He was placed in an isolated cell on suspicion of graft, embezzlement of state assets, accepting bribes, forgery and money laundering, the Taipei District Court said.

Chen's jailing follows a string of corruption allegations involving him, his family and close aides that marred the final years of his rule and ruined the reputation he had enjoyed a decade ago as one of Asia's cleanest politicians.

He has maintained his innocence and says the ruling Nationalist government wants to imprison him for political reasons; he later said in a statement released through his lawyer that there was no point appealing his imprisonment because "this play has already been written."

"The special investigation unit long ago had set up their own agenda. . . . It is all political persecution," the statement said.

But the court stood by its decision, saying it believed Chen's crimes to be severe.

"There is sufficient evidence that there is buried evidence, forgery, altered evidence and conspiracy among suspects or witnesses," the court said in a statement.

One of Chen's alleged crimes is embezzling about $450,000 in government funds, a charge that prosecutors first leveled two years ago. Chen's arrest does not amount to an indictment or formal charge. But prosecutors say that isolating Chen and other former officials suspected of corruption will prevent them from colluding with witnesses and tampering with evidence.

Chen has accused President Ma Ying-jeou, a Nationalist, of ordering his arrest to appease China. Ma took office in May on a platform of improving relations with Beijing, and last week he met with a top-level Chinese official. The meeting sparked violent protests by Taiwanese independence advocates. Presidential spokesman Wang Yu-chi said Ma respected the independence of the judiciary and would not comment.

Chen refused food all day, including dishes of sweet-and-sour pork and stir-fried cabbage, the semiofficial Central News Agency said late Wednesday. The agency quoted his lawyer, Tseng Wen-long, as saying Chen had told him before his imprisonment that he was thinking of going on a hunger strike. Tseng said he would visit Chen on Thursday to urge him to eat; the prison would not publicly comment Wednesday on the situation.

The former president's incarceration marks a dramatic fall from grace.

Chen, who is trained as a lawyer, was a political dissident and was imprisoned in 1986 during the harsh martial-law regime imposed on Taiwan by the Nationalists, who relocated to the island following their defeat in the Chinese civil war in 1949. He became a key figure in Taiwan's main opposition party, the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, and was elected president on a platform of clean government.

Analysts said the arrest is likely to tarnish the image of Chen's party, which was resoundingly defeated in parliamentary and presidential elections this year. It is also likely to lead to protests by independence activists.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company