Taiwanese Presidential Candidate Acquitted of Corruption Charges

A Taiwan court has cleared the Nationalist Party's presidential candidate of corruption and breach of trust charges. Ma Ying-jeou, a former Justice minister known for a squeaky-clean image prior to his indictment in February, says the case should never have gone to court. Jacques van Wersch in Taipei reports.

Ma Ying-jeou did not attend court to hear the judge announce the "not-guilty" verdict in his corruption trial, but dozens of his supporters cheered "Long live Ma Ying-jeou" when they got word of the decision.

Ma appeared at a news conference about two hours after the ruling. He said he felt his character was vindicated by the verdict.

"Well I think most people believe I am innocent. This is the most important driving force behind my cautious optimism," Ma said.

Ma was indicted for putting about 330,000 dollars of special allowance funds into his own bank account when he served as Taipei mayor from 1998 to 2006. He stepped down as chairman of the Nationalist Party after the indictment and at the same time announced he intended to run as the Nationalists' presidential candidate in next year's election. Ma never disputed that the money was put into his account, but he stressed he had nothing to do with it.

"Actually, it was not handled by me in person. Actually it (was) all done by my secretaries," Ma said. "I thought it was just absurd."

The panel of three judges in the case said that the special account that Ma was accused of misappropriating was intended to be used flexibly, which is why he was not required to show receipts for half the amount of expenses he claimed. To return a guilty verdict, they reasoned, would have put unreasonable restrictions on all government officials with similar accounts.

When speaking to journalists, Ma said the case was a waste of resources. He later added that the decision in this case could benefit other defendants from what he described as the prosecutors' "arbitrary selection of evidence."

Prosecutors are also investigating Ma's opponent in the presidential race, Democratic Progressive Party candidate Frank Hsieh, on similar allegations. Ma says he thinks prosecutors should stop investigating Hsieh and other special allowance cases in the light of his acquittal.

Prosecutors have 10 days to decide whether to appeal the verdict. The Taipei District Prosecutor's office has said it will study the full text of the verdict before making a decision on an appeal.