Taiwan ex-President Chen Shui-bian’s trial to start on January 19 as attorney files appeal against detention
Taiwan News, Staff Writer
2009-01-05 04:17 PM
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – The Taipei District Court will open the trial of ex-President Chen Shui-bian on corruption and money laundering charges on January 19 with three days of preparatory hearings, media reports said Monday.

The former president should appear in court on the morning of the first day for a hearing about a construction project and a land deal where his family stands accused of having received payoffs from businesses.

On January 20, the court will discuss embezzlement allegations linked to the presidential state affairs fund, while Chen will again be summoned to appear on the morning of January 21 to talks about the money laundering charges.

The reports about the impending trial came as an attorney for Chen filed an appeal against his detention Monday, launching the latest episode in a long and tortuous saga.

Chen was in custody from November 12 to December 13 as a suspect in several cases of alleged corruption and money laundering. He and 12 close relatives, friends, and former associates and government officials were indicted on December 12.

Following criticism by ruling Kuomintang lawmakers, prosecutors filed an appeal against Chen’s release without bail. Their first appeal was rejected on December 18, but a second appeal was approved on December 29 after a change in the Taipei District Court three-judge panel ruling on Chen’s cases.

At the presentation of the ex-president’s appeal against the detention Monday, attorney Cheng Wen-lung told reporters the decision to detain Chen was completely wrong.

Chen’s “behavior outside of prison delivers strong evidence that there is no need to detain him, since he did not interfere with suspects or witnesses,” Cheng said. The judges already ruled twice that he should not be kept in custody, the lawyer added.

The filing of the appeal with the Taiwan High Court is widely seen as an attempt to get him home before the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday starting on January 25.

The attorneys are arguing that Chen is not threatening to flee the country or to destroy evidence if he is released. Cheng said the sudden change in judges was illegal and unconstitutional, while the court has also still not ruled on a request for the new judges to abstain from the case. The attorneys filed the request on December 28.

The case “is not President Chen Shui-bian’s defeat, it’s the judiciary’s defeat,” Cheng told reporters.

If the attempt to free Chen fails, his attorneys could ask the Council of Grand Justices to rule on the constitutionality of his detention, reports said.

The former president has said he is innocent, adding that the funds involved in the money-laundering accusations were leftovers from his numerous election campaigns going back to 1994.

His son Chen Chih-chung and daughter-in-law Huang Jui-ching, who both were also indicted, visited him at the Taipei Detention Center in Tucheng, Taipei County, yesterday. In contrast to his previous bout in custody, Chen can receive visitors, though only two at a time.

The former president spends most of his time writing letters, said Ker Chien-ming, the legislative caucus whip for the Democratic Progressive Party. He had written eight letters so far to important people including President Ma Ying-jeou and Chinese President Hu Jintao, Ker said. Chen wanted the DPP to remember that its true enemy was not Ma but Hu, the senior lawmaker told reporters.

The ex-president has said his detention is part of a vendetta by Ma’s Kuomintang administration, which is misusing the judiciary to silence its opponents.

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