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Former Taiwan opposition leader acquitted of corruption

[JURIST] Former Taiwanese opposition party leader Ma Ying-jeou [personal website, in Chinese; Wikipedia profile] was acquitted of corruption and accounting fraud charges by the Taipei District Court [official website, in Chinese] Tuesday. The court ruled [PDF text, in Chinese] that there was no evidence that Ma had misappropriated a special discretionary expense fund for his personal use during his term as the mayor of Taipei [government website, English version]. Prosecutors alleged that Ma used the funds for personal gain because he transferred $333,000 from the fund to his personal account. Ma has denied the charges [JURIST report], arguing that the practice was legitimate because he used the money to fund municipal events and pay city employees. A municipal accountant was convicted and sentenced to 14 months in prison for illegally consolidating multiple expenses by switching receipts. Prosecutors have 10 days to file an appeal, but have not yet indicated whether they plan to do so.

Ma, who resigned as party leader of the Kuomingtang (KMT) [party website] after he was indicted [JURIST report], is the KMT candidate and front runner in Taiwan's 2008 presidential elections. He is not the only Taiwanese politician to be accused of corruption recently; the investigation against Ma commenced after high-profile allegations of insider trading and corruption emerged against Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian [BBC profile] and several relatives. In June, a high court affirmed the conviction of Chen's son-in-law on insider trading charges. Chen's wife, Wu Shu-chen, was indicted [JURIST report] last November for embezzlement and falsifying documents. Prosecutors have indicated that they have enough evidence to also indict Chen, but Chen enjoys Article 52 [text] constitutional immunity from most criminal charges while he remains in office. Prosecutors say that the president and first lady embezzled $450,000 from the state affairs budget between 2002 and 2006. Chen has said that the funds were used for classified diplomatic purposes [JURIST report] although he has refused to produce documents to back his claim, saying they are state secrets. Chen has pledged to resign if his wife is found guilty, but it is unlikely that the trial will conclude before his term expires in 2008. AFP has more. The China Times has local coverage, in Chinese.

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