Mr Chen, his wife Wu Shu-chen and 12 others were indicted on charges of corruption, money laundering, embezzlement and document forgery charges.
According to the ex president he is a victim of a “government purge” by the current president, Ma Ying-jeou, and his ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party.
The former presidential couple stands accused of embezzling millions of dollars in public funds and accepting a huge bribe in a land purchase deal.
In February, Mrs Wu pleaded guilty to accepting a US$ 2.2 million political donation in connection with a land purchase deal, but denied that it had been a bribe, as alleged by prosecutors.
Chen belongs to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which is largely backed by native Taiwanese. During his time in office (2000-2008) he pushed for a more independent position vis-à-vis mainland China and policies favourable to indigenous Taiwanese.
By contrast, the KMT claims the heritage of Chiang Kai-shek and has always favoured reunification with the mainland.
The new KMT president, Ma Ying-jeou, has established good economic relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC), although his detractors have accused him of favouring only the business community and its investments on the other side of the Taiwan Strait.
Among ordinary Taiwanese the trial has caused a deep split. Some see it as justice at work, blind to status, including that of former presidents. Others condemn the justice system and the government apparatus, accusing them of trying to humiliate the DPP, and plan to boycott the upcoming local elections.
Chen’s supporters also accuse the PRC of accepting better relations with Taiwan on condition it “punishes” the former president for trying to lead Taiwan towards independence.
For the mainland in fact the island nation remains a “breakaway” province which rightfully belongs to the PRC despite the fact that it has its own democratically-elected government, something unique in the Chinese world.