Former Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian made history on Tuesday as the first former president to get taken to jail. Chen, who left office in May amid scandal, held his handcuffs high and shouted, "Political persecution!" and "Cheers for Taiwan!" as he was led to the Taipei District Court, arrested on corruption charges that include money laundering, embezzlement, bribery and forgery. In August, Chen admitted that his wife had wired $20 million in leftover campaign funds overseas earlier in the year, but he denied engaging in money laundering. After an overnight session with prosecutors, judges decided on Wednesday morning to take Chen into custody to prevent him from colluding with other suspects.
Dozens of Chen's supporters cheered for him outside the court on Tuesday, while some 3000 police deployed to keep order looked on. While awaiting the judges' decision overnight, Chen claimed that a policeman hit him, which police deny. After he was taken to the hospital for two hours to check his wound, he was found to have a slight muscle injury in his right arm. Chen is now at the Taipei Detention Center.
Chen's arrest comes at a sensitive political moment in Taiwan. A top Chinese envoy came to Taiwan last week to sign landmark trade pacts, a historic visit that was marred by violent protests from opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) supporters who are wary of any moves to draw closer to China. Over a hundred people were injured in five days of chaos.
The first DPP politician to be elected president, Chen has become a symbol of the Taiwanese independence movement. During his eight years in office, he heightened Taiwanese pride on the island that had been ruled by non-indigenous regimes for centuries. Chen, in turn, was seen as a troublemaker by China because of his advocacy for Taiwan independence. China claims Taiwan, an island off mainland China, as its own, though Taiwan has ruled itself for 60 years.
But the last two years of Chen's administration were marred by scandal. His popularity and credibility plunged when his son-in-law was found to be guilty of insider trading in 2006. Not long after, his wife and three aides were indicted for embezzlement, forgery and perjury in the mishandling of $450,000 from a secret expense fund. Chen was also named a suspect in the case, which is now being investigated along with the money laundering allegations.
In the past months, Chen has been trying to stir up sympathy from supporters as he faces charges that could lead to at least five years in jail. After his arrest, Chen politicized his case by saying that the current President Ma Ying-jeou had him arrested "to appease China." Some Chen supporters are fiercely loyal to the "Son of Taiwan," Chen's nickname, and have strong suspicions of Ma's ruling Kuomintang party, which was an authoritarian regime for nearly 50 years. Analysts, however, don't think Chen's sensational detention will affect the government, in part because Ma has been careful to distance himself from the case. "There won't be many political repercussions, except die-hard supporters coming out to rally for him," says Andrew Yang, Secretary-General of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies. From the beginning, Ma has insisted that Chen's case has been left entirely to the judiciary.
Chen's wife, son, and daughter-in-law are also expected to be arrested soon. Nine other suspects, including former aides, officials and his brother-in-law have already been detained. With the numerous scandals that have swirled around Chen's inner circle the past two years, political commentator and Chen's former advisor Antonio Chiang says, "His arrest will be a great relief to the DPP, and to the people."