Former President Chen Shui-bian condemned to life imprisonment
His wife also sentenced to life imprisonment. Hundreds of protesters call for his release and declare his innocence. Chen declined to be present at the verdict. Observers: it was a political trial, China is happy, the KMT is victorious, but the country is divided.

Taipei (AsiaNews / Agencies) - This afternoon former president Chen Shui-bian was sentenced to life in prison for extortion, along with his wife Wu Shujen. The Taipei court convicted him of corruption and a host of other charges, ending a three year case involving Chen, his family and several of his employees. Chen has always defended himself by saying that the case against him was politically motivated, the result of a collaboration between the KMT (Kuomingtang, the opposing party, now in power) and the same China that has never loved Chen’s independent instances, during his presidency of Taiwan from 2000 to 2008.

The public prosecutor accused Chen and his wife of embezzling 104 million Taiwanese dollars (2.18 million) from a presidential fund, of accepting bribes of 2.73 million U.S. dollars (1.8 million EUR) from a contractor for facilitating competitions for government projects; 310 million NTD (6.5 million EUR) from other entrepreneurs.

The former president has always defended himself saying many funds were given to him to support his electoral campaign (which is permitted by Taiwan law) and that the presidential funds were used for expenses incurred in advocating Taiwan’s policies abroad. He also revealed that his officials squandered funds or accepted bribes while he was being politically persecuted, punished for having always sought greater independence from China.

Throughout this period, Chen has three times gone on hunger strike to contest the charges and because he was the only one imprisoned since first charged. Expecting the worst, the former president had already decided yesterday not to appear in court today for the reading of the verdict. Hundreds of his supporters and the DPP (Democratic Progress Party, in opposition) protested outside the court proclaiming his innocence and demanding his release.

The trial of Chen Shui-bian has indeed revealed injustices with the detention of the accused before trial and with the change, at a certain point, of the court president. In a letter to the government of Taiwan, 30 law scholars have warned the nation about an "erosion of the legal system" that could cast shadows on the Chen’s right to a fair trial.

Observers note that through this trial and its conclusion, the KMT will probably ensure itself a good result for the forthcoming local elections scheduled for later this year. Since the end of Chen’s mandate and the election of Ma Ying-jeou (KMT) as President, relations with China have become more relaxed and cooperative. But the trial of Chen Shui-bian and closer ties with Beijing are causing divisions in the population of the island, who accuse Ma of "selling Taiwan" out to China and of only providing for the welfare of the entrepreneurial class.