November 11, 2008 / 9:31 AM / 10 years ago

Taiwan ex-president held in money-laundering case

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Former Taiwan president Chen Shui-bian, a firebrand advocate of the island’s formal independence from China, was detained on Tuesday after being questioned for most of the day about a money-laundering case.

Taiwan's former President Chen Shui-bian gestures while speaking upon his arrival at the Supreme Prosecutors' Office's Special Investigation Panel (SIP) to be questioned about a money laundering case in Taipei November 11, 2008. REUTERS/Pichi Chuang

Chen, a 58-year-old career lawyer and president from 2000 to 2008, left a special Supreme Court prosecutor’s office in handcuffs after more than six hours, with about 300 officers guarding the area to fend off any protests.

As a court considered making a formal arrest on Tuesday night, Chen said he had been hit by an officer, and he was sent to a hospital to be checked. A prosecutor’s spokesman said no one had struck him.

Earlier in the day, Chen raised his hands in the air as he was detained to show the media his handcuffs, before being pushed into a waiting car.

“Go, Taiwan,” he yelled to reporters.

At a news conference outside the prosecutor’s office on Tuesday morning, Chen said he expected the arrest in connection with a money laundering probe involving himself and family. He called the prosecution a political plot.

“I have prepared for this arrest psychologically,” Chen said a day before he was detained.

The former first family is suspected of sending at least T$1 billion ($30 million) to Japan, the United States, the Cayman Islands, Singapore and Switzerland, among other places, Taiwan newspapers said, quoting the Supreme Court prosecutor’s office.

Probes into the affairs of Chen, his family and aides have hurt the image of the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which faces tough local elections in 2009. The former president and his wife, also a graft suspect in an ongoing trial, left the party in August.

Chen’s supporters, about 20 of whom demonstrated outside the prosecutor’s office on Tuesday, have accused the ruling Nationalist Party (KMT) of pushing for the arrest of DPP luminaries since Chen left office in May due to term limits.

He was replaced by the KMT’s Ma Ying-jeou, who took office on pledges to improve Taiwan’s ailing economy amid broader discontent over Chen, whose frequent prods at China alienated not only China but also Taiwan’s important ally the United States.

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.

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