TAIPEI, Taiwan, Nov. 3 -- The office of Taiwan's chief prosecutor announced Friday that President Chen Shui-bian's wife is being indicted on embezzlement and forgery charges, and said Chen himself is suspected of corruption but cannot be indicted because of presidential immunity.
The announcement, by Chang Wen-cheng, chief secretary of the High Prosecutor's Office, plunged Chen's beleaguered pro-independence presidency into doubt and led Taiwan's main opposition leader to demand Chen's immediate resignation. Chen's own Democratic Progressive Party -- whose support is key to his future -- demanded that he explain his role in the scandal but did not comment on appeals for his resignation.
Taiwan's opposition Nationalist Party leader Ma Ying-jeou holds an emergency press conference after prosecutors announced evidence to indict Taiwan's president, Friday, Nov. 3, 2006, in Taipei, Taiwan. Ma called on President Chen Shui-bian to resign without delay. With the first lady Wu Shu-chen earlier indicted in the same case, prosecutors said Friday they have enough evidence to indict President Chen on charges of embezzlement and forgery of documents in connection with the handling of a secret diplomatic fund, but that his formal indictment will await the end of his term. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying) (Chiang Ying-ying - AP)
The charges were the most serious so far in a cascade of corruption accusations leveled against Chen, his family and his aides over the last year. The accusations against Chen's wife -- and the suggestion that the president himself may be involved -- raised the scandal to the highest level of this self-governing island, placing it within the first family.
Chang said prosecutors believe the first lady, Wu Shu-chen, embezzled almost $450,000 over the last four years by using false receipts to claim expenses from a government slush fund used for secret diplomatic activities. Three former presidential aides -- Ma Yung-cheng, Lin Teh-shun and Chen Chen-hui -- were indicted on similar charges for what prosecutors said was collaboration with Wu in embezzlement.
There was no description of the slush fund. But Taiwan and mainland China frequently have been reported to pay money secretly to the governments of small countries in a bitter rivalry for diplomatic recognition.
Chang did not say specifically what crime the president was believed to have committed. But he declared, "The prosecutors have determined President Chen is suspected of involvement in corruption."
Chang said that, despite the determination, Chen will not be indicted immediately because, as president, he is constitutionally protected from criminal charges. If Chen resigns, is removed or otherwise leaves office, however, he can be charged, Chang told reporters. Chen's second four-year term runs out in May 2008.
Chen, who cannot seek a third term, made no comment Friday. But in the past, he has insisted he is innocent. His wife, Wu, also issued no comment but previously has denied the accusations against her.
The head of the opposition Nationalist Party and its likely next presidential candidate, Ma Ying-jeou, issued a statement calling on Chen to resign swiftly. "He has lost the people's trust and respect, and as he is burdened with scandals, he can no longer lead the people nor effectively represent the country," Ma said. "We urge him to resign as soon as possible. I also urge the ruling Democratic Progressive Party to be bold, brave and push the president to resign as soon as possible."