Taiwan ex-president acquitted of libel

Other News Materials 9 September 2008 12:31 (UTC +04:00)

Taiwan's scandal-tainted former president Chen Shui-bian was acquitted Tuesday of libel in a defamation suit filed by five retired naval officers, reported dpa.

"Chen was found not guilty of libel because the judges could not find evidence showing he had the intention in doing so," said Taipei District Court spokesman Huang Chun-ming.

Chen, who stepped down as president in May, was sued by the five for suggesting in a television interview in 2005 that they allegedly took 20 million US dollars in kickbacks through a 2.7-billion-US-dollar deal in buying six La Fayette frigates from France in 1991.

Chen said the military originally decided to buy frigates from South Korea in 1989, but suddenly changed its mind to buy the French frigates and appointed a six-member ad-hoc committee to review the case, which finally decided to buy the over-priced French arms.

The five officers were members of the committee at that time. Another member, who also sued Chen for libel, already died of cancer several years ago.

Huang said Chen was merely commenting on the case, which was subject to public scrutiny.

Admiral Lei Hsueh-ming, one of the five officers, said they could not accept the verdict and would appeal against the district court's decision.

Chen, who lost his presidential immunity after stepping down, is being investigated over his alleged role in laundering at least 21 million US dollars and embezzling 470,000 US dollars in special state funds during his term as president. He has sternly denied any wrongdoing.

He had faced mounting pressure to step down between 2006 and 2007 over a string of corruption scandals involving his family and his government.