Ma Ying-jeou to stand trial for graft on April 3

The China Post staff

Ma Ying-jeou, former chairman of the Kuomintang, will stand trial for corruption early next month. Liu Shou-sung, a spokesman for the Taipei district court, said yesterday the first trial hearing will start at 9:30 a.m. on April 3.

Three judges in conference will try the frontrunner for the 2008 presidential race, Liu said. Tsai Shou-hsun will be the presiding judge. A popular and increasingly populist Ma was indicted on February 13 for embezzlement in connection with the misuse of his expense account while he was mayor of Taipei. Also to be tried is his secretary Yu Wen, who mishandled the expense account by replacing petty cash receipts with large bills to facilitate the accounting. The misused money involved totaled well over NT$11 million. Yu was charged with forgery and corruption. Elected chairman of the opposition party in July 2005, Ma was forced to resign when he was indicted. He declared his bid to seek the presidency on the same day. The Kuomintang’s most likely standard bearer for 2008, who had served as justice minister before he was elected mayor of the capital in 1998, said he is innocent, denying all graft charges against him. He has a point. Only on Monday, Hsu Tian-tsair, mayor of Tainan, was absolved though he used his expense account the same way Ma did. Most top public office holders are facing similar charges. Among them are Vice President Annette Lu, Premier Su Tseng-chang, his predecessor Frank Hsieh, and Democratic Progressive Party chairman Yu Shyi-kun. All four are vying for Democratic Progressive Party candidacy for president. In convicted, Ma may be sentenced to no less than seven years in prison. He may also be forced to drop out of the race, if he has been nominated for president by the opposition party. The Kuomintang has to name who will head its 2008 ticket before the end of May. “I certainly will attend the hearing,” Ma said. “I have confidence that I will be proven not guilty,” he added. That was a snipe at first lady Wu Shu-chen, who has refused to attend trial hearings on account of poor health after she had collapsed during the recess of the first one on last December 15. Wu was indicted on November 3 for corruption, charged with borrowing receipts and bills from friends and relatives to claim NT$14.8 million reimbursement from a public fund under President Chen Shui-bian’s control for the conduct of “affairs of state.”

President Chen was not indicted, for he is immune against prosecution, but was regarded as an indicted co-defendant, who will be formally charged on leaving office.