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    Greater China
     Nov 4, 2006
Taiwan's first lady faces corruption charges
By John Ng

HONG KONG - Pressure on Taiwan's embattled President Chen Shui-bian to step down heightened sharply on Friday after public prosecutors announced they would file corruption charges against his wife, Wu Shu-chen.

According to the island's government-run Central News Agency, prosecutors had also found evidence that Chen was implicated in the corruption case, but as Taiwanese presidents are immune

from criminal charges, no action would be taken now. A formal indictment against Chen could be issued after he steps down or finishes his term, prosecutor Chang Wen-cheng said.

Another prosecutor of the Taiwan High Prosecutors' Office said at a media briefing that Wu was accused of embezzlement, forgery of documents and perjury involving NT$14.8 million (US$448,500).

Three former aides of Chen, including Ma Yong-cheng, the former secretary general of the Presidential Office, Lin Teh-shun and an accountant, Chen Chen-hui, were also indicted in the case, which involved the mishandling of a secret state fund, said Chang.

The 120-day investigation, which was launched on June 29, had involved the summoning of 276 witnesses, Chang said. "Finally, we have found evidence that between July 2002 and March 2006, Wu Shu-chen, through other persons' purchase invoices, embezzled over NT$14.8 million of secret state funds," Chang said.

Both Chen and Wu have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

"The High Court prosecutor has also determined that President Chen is involved in the case ... but under the constitution we have to wait until he is recalled or finishes his term before we can take further action," Chang said.

The investigations into Chen and Wu, and separates investigation and charges against their son-in-law, Chao Chien-ming, have sent Chen's support rate to as low as 18%, leading to continuous street protests calling for his Chen's ouster.

The prosecutors' announcement immediately sparked off a now round of calls for Chen to step down.

Ma Ying-jeou, chairman of the major opposition Kuomintang (KMT), said Chen should step down as soon as possible, urging Chen's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to force him to resign.

The KMT and another opposition party, the People First Party, said that if Chen still refuses to resign they will move for his recall (resignation) in the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan's parliament.

Shi Ming-te, former DPP chairman who organized hundreds of thousands of protesters to take to the streets demanding Chen's stepping down in September-October, called his supporters to gather on Friday in front of Presidential House to demand Chen's immediate resignation.

According to Taiwan's constitution, if Chen steps down, Vice President Annette Lu Hsiu-lien will become president.

However, political analysts believe Chen will fight to the last minute against resignation and there will be political instability in Taiwan in the coming weeks.

John Ng is a Hong Kong-based freelance journalist.

(Copyright 2006 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing .)

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