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Court clears Taiwan opposition presidential candidate of graft charges

Court clears Taiwan opposition presidential candidate of graft charges

Taiwan's High Court cleared opposition presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou of graft charges Friday, securing a place for the former Taipei mayor in the March presidential race.
With the court's decision, the 57-year-old Ma is now free to press forward with his message of closer ties with rival China and an improved Taiwanese economy in the run-up to the presidential election.
He faces Frank Hsieh of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, which favors full independence for Taiwan.
China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949, but Beijing still considers the self-ruled island part of its territory and has threatened to go to war if Taiwan seeks to formalize its de facto independence.
A lower court originally exonerated Ma in August on charges of diverting 11 million New Taiwan dollars (US$333,000) of public money into his private account while serving as mayor of Taipei between 1998 and 2006.
But prosecutors appealed that decision and added a new charge _ breach of trust.
Had the High Court upheld their appeal and sentenced him to at least 10 years in prison _ or had he been convicted on the breach of trust count _ the Harvard-educated Ma would have been barred from the presidential race.
Addressing reporters after the High Court ruling, Ma attacked prosecutors for bringing the case against him.
"I feel I have been slighted," he said. "I cannot accept that prosecutors twisted witnesses' statements and falsified the record."
Ma was widely known for his clean-cut image before DPP lawmakers pressed prosecutors to investigate graft allegations against him earlier this year.
In his defense, Ma argued that Taiwanese law recognized a special mayoral fund as an official subsidy of his salary.
Ma always maintained that one of the main charges against him _ using the fund without providing detailed accounting _ had long been common practice among Taiwanese municipal leaders and other government officials.
Rather than pocketing the fund, he said, he used it to make donations to charity.
Several leading politicians face charges similar to Ma's. Vice President Annette Lu was charged in September of using false receipts to collect reimbursements. She has pleaded not guilty.
During the early phases of the presidential campaign, Ma has argued consistently that the failure of the DPP to sanction direct air and sea links with China is costing Taiwan's economy dearly.
He also charges that a campaign by President Chen Shui-bian to emphasize Taiwan's separate identity from the mainland is ratcheting up tensions in the Taiwan Strait and undermining the island's relations with the United States, its most important foreign partner.
DPP candidate Hsieh has countered by saying that Ma's liberal China policies run the risk of dulling Taiwan's identity even while acknowledging his support for liberalizing existing trade restrictions with the mainland.
Early opinion polls give Ma a 20-point lead.


Updated : 2020-12-04 21:48 GMT+08:00