November 12, 2008 / 12:37 AM / 12 years ago

Taiwan ex-president arrested in laundering probe

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Former Taiwan president Chen Shui-bian, a strong advocate of formal independence from China, was arrested on Wednesday in connection with money-laundering allegations he has described as political persecution.

Former Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian shows his handcuffed hands to the media while being sent from the prosecutors' office to the Taipei District Court November 11, 2008. Chen, an anti-China firebrand known for advocating Taiwan's independence from Beijing, was in custody on Tuesday after being questioned for most of the day about a money-laundering case. REUTERS/Stringer

Chen, 58, president from 2000 to 2008, was detained on Tuesday after being questioned for most of the day.

Following a night of deliberation, the Taipei district court arrested Chen and sent him to jail, a court official said. He is Taiwan’s first former president to be arrested.

Chen’s arrest, and suspicion surrounding others in the case, has cast a shadow over his Democratic Progressive Party, now the main opposition after its landslide defeat in legislative and presidential elections earlier this year.

Chen has cast himself as a victim in the case, saying the aggressive investigation is the result of behind-the-scenes pressure from the ruling Nationalist Party (KMT), whose policy of closer ties with China contrasts sharply contentious cross-strait relations under Chen’s administration.

The former first family is suspected of sending at least T$1 billion (19.7 million pounds) to Japan, the United States, the Cayman Islands, Singapore and Switzerland, among other places, the Supreme Court prosecutor’s office has told local media.

Photos of Chen filled the front pages of newspapers on Wednesday, his hands raised in the air to show off his handcuffs as he left the prosecutor’s office the day before.

“He’s spoken his viewpoint that this is political persecution and a political plot to get him,” his lawyer, Cheng Wen-lung, told reporters after the formal arrest.

But some analysts disagreed.

“They must have hard evidence, and it will hurt the DPP’s image for sure,” said George Tsai, a political science professor at Chinese Culture University in Taipei.

“I don’t know if it will cause social unrest or not,” Tsai said. “We might see minor demonstrations.”

Chen’s detention was widely reported in China’s media on Wednesday, although reports appeared to avoid overt editorial comment and stuck mostly to the facts in the case.

At the regular news conference of China’s State Council Taiwan Affairs Office on Wednesday, spokeswoman Fan Liqing called Chen’s comments that his arrest was the joint work of the Nationalists and Chinese Communist party “pure fabrication.”

China has claimed self-ruled Taiwan as its territory since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949 and pledged to bring the island under its rule, by force if necessary.

Additional reporting by Chris Buckley in Beijing; Editing by David Fox

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