The detention of Taiwan’s ex-President Chen Shui-bian on corruption allegations turns what had started out as another episode of a soap opera into a serious drama.
Chen stands accused of money laundering and illegally using 14.8 million Taiwan dollars, about half a million U.S. dollars, of a special presidential fund. He denies the allegations which he says are politically motivated.
Strongly nationalist, Chen says his successor Ma Ying-jeou, who campaigned on promises to expand ties with Beijing and put relations with the mainland on a less confrontational footing, has had him detained to curry favor with Beijing. He is, he has said, “a sacrifice to appease China.”
His arrest came at the end of a landmark visit by Chen Yunlin, the highest ranking official to visit the island since 1949. Beijing and Taipei signed a number of trade and communications agreements during the visit which was also marked by a series of unruly anti-Beijing protests.
Following a court hearing, interrupted when Chen had to go to hospital for treatment after being jostled on his way into court, the former president can now be detained for four months in prison, though he has not been formally charged.
Chen’s eight years as president were marked by a succession of corruption allegations against his family and advisors. His son-in-law was charged in 2006 with insider trading on the stock market and then jailed for seven years. That politically damaged the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party, a point probably not lost on Ma’s Kuomintang ahead of next year’s local elections.
Note and update: This post was written before Chen started his hunger strike, but publishing gremlins delayed its posting. (We have had the offending gremlin 404’d.) After five days without eating, Chen has been taken from his prison cell to hospital suffering an irregular heartbeat.