Taiwan’s former first lady pleads guilty to forgery

February 10th, 2009 - 10:32 pm ICT by IANS  

Taipei, Feb 10 (DPA) Taiwan’s former first lady Wu Shu-chen pleaded guilty Tuesday to money laundering and forgery charges in a widely watched pre-trial hearing at the Taipei district court.

But she denied more serious embezzlement and bribery charges, saying that to her knowledge, the millions of dollars in funds she had received were merely political contributions for her husband, Chen Shui-bian, when he was still president.

“I pleaded guilty over the Nankang case and related money laundering,” she told Judge Tsai Shou-hsun in a two-and-a-half-hour hearing.

She was referring to a construction project in the Nankang district in Taipei city, of which she was charged with taking $2.7 million in bribes from a businessman in exchange for her help to secure the building contract.

Wu insisted the brother of a close friend who brokered the deal in 2003 told her the funds were merely political contributions for her husband. She said she only received $2.2 million from the brother and, with his help, she wired the money abroad without telling her husband.

Wu was also charged with accepting $11.8 billion in bribes in 2004 from another businessman with the help of the brother, identified as Tsai Ming-che, in exchange for her help in a land deal. Wu, however, told the court that she only received half the amount and that Tsai had also told her it was a political contribution.

On the charges of embezzlement of $3.08 million in state funds, she said she only provided the receipts for her husband’s aides to account for spending claims.

“Ma Yung-cheng asked me to collect the receipts from others in order to claim the funds, and I just did what he told me to,” she said, referring to her husband’s chief aide.

She admitted the act was document forgery and pleaded guilty to that offence.

She apologized to the public after the hearing, saying she should not have asked her relatives and friends to act as her proxies in wiring money abroad.

“I shouldn’t have been involved in all these things, and I repent for what I have done,” she said.

Wu, 56, paralyzed from the waist down, sat in her wheelchair throughout the court session with permission twice from the court for 10-minute rest sessions. She collapsed at the first hearing of her embezzlement charges in 2006 and had failed to show up at other hearings until Tuesday.

Because of her health, the court agreed to postpone a hearing scheduled for Wednesday until March 3.

Her guilty pleas were seen by legal experts as a strategy to protect her husband, who faces similar charges, including accepting bribes, embezzlement of state funds and money laundering.

Chen, president from 2000 to 2008, has been detained at the Taipei Detention Centre since late December, pending court proceedings.

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