[JURIST] Taiwanese Nationalist Party (KMT) [party website, in Chinese] leader Ma Ying-jeou [official website, in Chinese; Wikipedia profile] pleaded not guilty Tuesday to corruption charges [JURIST report] and said he plans to run in the 2008 presidential elections no matter what the court's verdict. The charges against Ma stem from $333,000 that he transferred from a city expense fund to his own private account during his term as mayor of Taipei [government website, English version]. Ma has defended his actions as completely legitimate based on a 20-year-old practice that allows government officials to take discretionary funds without keeping specific accounting records if used to pay bonuses to city workers or fund municipal events.
If convicted by the Taipei District Court, the Harvard-trained lawyer could be sentenced to up to seven years in jail. The KMT and current ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) [party website] are scheduled to reveal their presidential candidates in May. Fellow Nationalist Wang Jin-pyng [Wikipedia profile] said Monday that he will not contest the presidential primary, but some believe Wang may split the party by running as an independent presidential candidate against Ma. AP has more.