Taiwan former First Lady admits forgery at highly anticipated court session

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Former First Lady Wu Shu-jen on Tuesday admitted to forgery and to accepting substantial payments from businessmen but not to embezzling state funds at her first court appearance in more than two years.
Her presence at the Taipei District Court had been highly anticipated following 17 requests of absence for medical reasons from a separate trial which opened on December 15, 2006 with her fainting and being taken to hospital.
During the two-hour pre-trial session, Wu was questioned about four cases of corruption, forgery and money laundering surrounding Wu and her husband, jailed ex-President Chen Shui-bian.
Wu admitted yesterday to accepting NT$200 million from Taiwan Cement chairman Leslie Koo for a land deal in Lungtan, Taoyuan County, but not the NT$300 million the businessman had alleged.
She also said she only accepted the funds because a family friend, Tsai Ming-che, told her they were a political donation. She told the court she believed Koo was donating the money because he felt disadvantaged by other members of his prominent business family.
She told the judges Tsai abused his status as the brother of her old school friend Tsai Mei-li to pose as her assistant and benefit from a variety of deals, reports said.
Wu also said she had accepted US$2.2 million from a construction tycoon bidding for a contract on the Nangang Exhibition Hall in Taipei, but not the US$2.73 million mentioned in the indictments. However, she described the funds in both cases as political donations, so she denied she accepted illegal payments.
The former First Lady denied the charge of embezzling from the presidential state affairs fund, though she acknowledged being guilty of forgery by collecting and supplying invoices to claim compensation from the fund.
Wu told the court that former presidential cashier Chen Chen-hui, another one of the indicted, should know more about this case because it was her job to handle money.
Commentators on cable TV stations yesterday said Wu could not admit to pocketing presidential funds without implicating her husband. Ruling Kuomintang lawmakers said the former First Lady was trying to put all the blame on others, while members of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party said her public apology was a good start.
Wu and Chen were indicted last December 12 on charges of embezzling NT$104 million from a special presidential fund, laundering up to NT$500 million through overseas bank accounts, accepting NT$100 million in bribes and US$6 million in the Lungtan land deal, as well as US$2.73 million in the Nangang Exhibition case.
At the end of the session, she apologized to the court for causing inconvenience to the public and for keeping prosecutors so busy. She also said she would no longer ask for leave from the court proceedings.
Outside the court, she read a short two-point statement in a hoarse voice while shutting her eyes as cameras flashed around her.
“Because this case implicated many innocent relatives, friends and aides, and because I made society pay a high cost, I personally express my regrets,” she said.
Wu said she would face the judiciary in the cases she had already been indicted for, and show up in court as summoned if her health allowed. In the cases still under investigation, she would cooperate with prosecutors, she said.
The former First Lady has also been facing a ream of allegations about hundreds of millions of New Taiwan dollars in money and jewelry in various countries. Prosecutors are still investigating further allegations of bribes from major financial groups and embezzlement of presidential funds.
Her son Chen Chih-chung and his wife Huang Jui-ching set the tone by pleading guilty at their pre-trial session on January 21, followed by several others of the dozen or so indicted.
A second court session originally planned for today was rescheduled for March 3 and 5 because Wu said she found it hard to appear two days in a row. Two of her attorneys who also joined her legal team last week said they needed more time to go through all the documents. The ex-president is expected to appear in court on February 24, 25 and 26.
Wu left her home in a friend’s car and arrived at the court for the first time in 788 days around 2:10 p.m., wearing a bright orange coat. She smiled and waved at supporters as she was being pushed past them in a wheelchair.
An estimated 200 police lined the streets around the court entrance, as supporters and opponents shouted slogans. National Taiwan University Hospital kept one ambulance, two doctors and two nurses ready for emergencies.
Wu’s son was also present at the court’s request, as were two of her attorneys, three prosecutors from the Taipei Prosecutors Office and three from the Special Investigation Division of the Supreme Prosecutors Office, the unit in charge of the investigations into the former First Family.
Wu paused for 10 minutes after every 30 minutes of questioning, and the court room’s thermostat was set especially high to help her feel comfortable, media said. According to cable stations reporting from the court, presiding judge Tsai Shou-shun opened the session with almost 20 minutes of questions about Wu’s health.