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Trial to start in Chen graft case

THE corruption trial of former Taiwan leader Chen Shui-bian finally begins today.

The proceedings follow two months of pretrial hearings to review key elements of the case against Chen, his wife Wu Shu-chen, their son, daughter-in-law and several aides and associates.

Prosecutors indicted Chen, who left office last May, and Wu in December on charges of embezzling NT$104 million (US$3.12 million) from a special fund, receiving bribes worth at least US$9 million in connection with a government land procurement deal and laundering some of the funds by wiring the money to Swiss bank accounts.

Chen has denied the charges, while Wu has pleaded guilty to laundering US$2.2 million and forging official documents. If convicted, Chen could spend the rest of his life in prison.

The indictments outline a complex scheme in which Chen allegedly allowed his wife to take bribes from businesspeople seeking political favors.

Chen's defense strategy has been to profess ignorance of those alleged transactions, stressing that Wu alone managed millions of dollars in donations and other funds.

At one hearing, Chen argued that Wu had received NT$200 million from a land owner as a political donation, not as a bribe.

He told the three-judge panel that he had pushed for the purchase of a tract of the businessman's land because it was in the public's interest to use it to build an industrial park.

While analysts say that much of the pretrial evidence against Chen seems overwhelming, they suggest that prosecutors will be hard pressed to present concrete proof to convict him of taking bribes.

"There are many gray areas that Chen could use for his defense," said political commentator Huang Chih-hsien.

"Unlike America, Hong Kong or Singapore, we cannot convict a politician simply for failing to prove his wealth has come from legitimate means," Huang said. "The prosecutor must also prove that a deal was struck to hand out political favors in exchange for bribes."

In contrast to Chen, analysts said that Wu's conviction on the charges she hasn't admitted to appears likely, because several suspects have already given testimony implicating her.


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